Vermont Probate Records
Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. For further information about the probate process, types of probate records, analyzing probate records, and to access a glossary of probate terms, see United States Probate Records.
A general knowledge of Vermont history is essential to understanding Vermont probate records. The territory we now recognize as Vermont was first inhabited by Europeans during the mid 1600s. The 1666 establishment of Fort Sainte Anne on the Isle La Motte is considered to be the first permanent European settlement. Non-French settlers began exploring and inhabiting the Vermont region towards the end of the 17th century. The first British settlement, Fort Dummer, was built in 1724. Before long, conflict over the frontier region erupted between the two nations. As a result of France’s defeat in the French and Indian War, Britain gained control over the entire region.
Disputes over the newly acquired region soon developed amongst the British colonies. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York all asserted claim to parts of the territory. In 1740, King George II established the modern day boundary between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The border, however, between New York and New Hampshire remained relatively undefined for some time. From 1749 to 1763 New Hampshire issued a series of land grants for 129 towns in the region. The majority of property was located in areas lying west of the Green Mountains (or New York side). A ruling in 1764 by King George III set the boundary line between New York and New Hampshire as the Connecticut River (or the modern day boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire). Land previously granted by New Hampshire fell under the jurisdiction of New York. When New York failed to recognize the New Hampshire grants the colonists became infuriated. Settlers of the New Hampshire Grants formed an informal militia, known as the Green Mountain Boys, to prevent New York officials from exercising their authority. Consequently, a period of strife ensued.
Representatives of the New Hampshire Grants eventually remedied the situation in 1777 by declaring themselves an independent republic. Initially, the state was known as New Connecticut, but later the name Vermont was adopted. Following the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution, Vermont was admitted as the 14th state in the union on 14 March 1791. Researchers looking for probate records prior to Vermont’s independence are encouraged to check the records of New York or New Hampshire. There are no known probate records in Vermont prior to independence.
Since 1777, Vermont probate records have been kept by probate district courts. Unlike Vermont county courts which have jurisdiction over the entire county, early Vermont probate districts were confined to a specific geographical area within the county. As a result, counties were comprised of multiple probate districts. Initially the number of probate districts per county was set by Vermont legislators at four. When representatives met in general assembly in February 1779 they created three probate districts in Bennington County (Bennington, Manchester, and Rutland), and four in Cumberland County (Guilford, Rockingham, Windsor, and Barnet).
Before long Vermont’s population necessitated the creation of additional counties. In 1781 Cumberland County was abolished and the counties of Windsor, Windham, and Orange were formed. Rutland County was also formed from the northern portion of Bennington County. As a result of the reconfiguration, the number of probate districts per county decreased. Each Vermont county was divided into two probate districts, with the exception of Rutland, which was established with one. Since that time, all Vermont counties have been comprised of either one or two probate districts.
Today Vermont has 14 counties and 18 probate districts. The four southern counties (Bennington, Rutland, Windham, and Windsor) still have two probate courts each. The remaining counties each have one probate district who's jurisdiction is confined to the current county boundaries.
Vermont probate courts are responsible for wills, inventories, estates, guardianships, name changes, adoptions, and relinquishments. Adoption cases over 99 years old are open to the public.
- Vermont probate district courthouses. The district offices maintain original probate files as well as card indexes of the decedents. For current address and telephone information visit the Vermont Probate Court page at Vermont Judiciary.org.
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society located in the heart of downtown Boston, Massachusetts has pre-1850 Vermont probate records available on microfilm. The society's R. Stanton Avery Special Collections Department also houses two manuscript indexes to early probate records for the Rutland (Rutland County) and Randolph (Orange County) districts. To search their online library catalog click Here.
- The Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah has pre-1850 Vermont probate records available on microfilm. For collection details see the Family History Library Catalog. Use the "Place Search" option to search for a specific Vermont county. Then look for topics labeled "Probate Records" or "Guardianship."
Statewide Record Collections
- "Vermont Probate Files, 1791-1919," database, FamilySearch; (http://familysearch.org), from County Probate Courts in Vermont. Digital images of originals housed in the County Probate Courts in Vermont. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Contains index and images of probate estate files. Currently only the counties of Chittenden and Essex are available. Additional counties will be added later. For further information about this collection click Here.
- Bartley, Scott Andrew. "A Guide to Genealogical Research in Vermont." New England Ancestors, Summer 2007. (FHL 974 D25nea v. 8.)
- Bartley, Scott Andrew. "Adoption by Law." [Online Article]. AmericanAncestors.org. http://www.americanancestors.org/adoption-by-law/: 2010. Available only to members of American Ancestors.
- Bartley, Scott Andrew. "Vermont Probate Records." [Online Article]. AmericanAncestors.org. 11 April 2003. http://www.americanancestors.org/vermont-probate-records/: 2010. Available only to members of American Ancestors.
- Eichholz, Alice. Collecting Vermont Ancestors. Montpelier, Vermont: New Trails, 1986. (FHL 974.3 D27e.) (WorldCat entry).
- Melnyk, Marcia D. Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, 4th ed. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999. (FHL 974 D27g.) (WorldCat entry). This helpful guide contains addresses for each of the Vermont probate district courts.
- Vermont Judiciary.org. The official Web site of the Vermont Judiciary. The site provides useful information about the Vermont court system, including the Vermont Probate Court. Resources include address and telephone number for each probate court, information about guardianships and adoptions, answers to frequently asked questions, etc. For maps and travel directions to Vermont probate courts click Here.
- Michie's Legal Resources. An excellent online resource for current Vermont court rules and statutes.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."
- Walter H. Crockett, editor, Journals and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the State of Vermont; vol. 3, part 1 of State Papers of Vermont (Bellows Falls, Vermont: P. H. Gobie Press, Inc., 1924), 8.
- Allen Soule, editor, Laws of Vermont, 1777-1780; vol. 12 of State Papers of Vermont (Montpelier, Vermont: Vermont Printing Company, 1964), 85-86.
- John A. Williams, editor, Laws of Vermont, 1781-1784; vol. 13 of State Papers of Vermont (Barre, Vermont: Modern Printing Company, 1965), 12-13.