Virginia 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.
Probate records have been kept by at the county level in Virginia by the general court and by the county and circuit courts. In independent cities, probates are now kept by the clerks' offices of the circuit courts.
The wills of colonial Virginians may have been proved locally, or abroad. Many wills were probated in London and Edinburgh.
Proved in Virginia
For the period 1800 to 1865, see the 10-volume:
- Pippenger, Wesley E. Index to Virginia Estates, 1800-1865. 10 vols. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Genealogical Society, 2001-2008. FHL Book 975.5 P22p.
Pippenger's book references all types of probate records, including inventories, accounts, etc.
For the period after 1865, it is necessary to search will indexes on a county-by-county basis.
Original will books are stored at courthouses. Many are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia and the Family History Library. A guide for the Library of Virginia collections has been published.
Proved in London
Virginia wills and administrations proved in London have been abstracted and published multiple times. Each edition is listed here, as some are available online, while others are not. In addition, publishers included more detailed abstracts in some editions than others. The 2007 edition includes a place-name index that enables users to pluck out Virginia references:
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. English Estates of American Colonists: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1699. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980. Digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. English Estates of American Colonists: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1700-1799. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980. Digital version of 1991 reprint available at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. English Estates of American Colonists: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1800-1858. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981. Digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. American Wills & Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989. FHL Book 942 P27c; digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. American Wills Proved in London, 1611-1775. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992. FHL Book 973 P27ca; digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. North American Wills Registered in London, 1611-1857. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007. FHL Book 942 P27c 2007.
Many English wills mentioning Virginia (and some Scottish and Irish wills) have been reproduced in the Virginia Colonial Records Project (Library of Virginia). For a guide, see:
- Walne, Peter. English Wills: Probate Records in England and Wales With a Brief Note on Scottish and Irish Wills, A Special Report of the Virginia Colonial Records Project, 2nd ed. Richmond, 1981.
If you find a will abstact of interest in Walne's or Coldham's books, it is now possible to view digital images of the original Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills online at two United Kingdom pay-per-view websites:
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills (1384-1858), courtesy: The National Archives, UK.
- PCC Wills Index and Images (1384-1858), courtesy: The Genealogist. (in progress)
Proved in Edinburgh
The wills of some Virginia residents were proved in Edinburgh, Scotland, see:
- Dobson, David. Scottish-American Wills, 1650-1900. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991. FHL Book 973 P22d. Over 2,000 citations including name, occupation, residence, and date.
Most of these references were taken from the Commissariat Court of Edinburgh (now the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh) and the Index to Personal Estates of Defuncts, 1846-1866. If you find a will abstact that interests you in Dobson's book, it is now possible to view digital images of the original records online at a United Kingdom pay-per-view website:
- Wills & Testaments (1513-1901), courtesy: Scotlands People
For abstracts of early Virginia wills, the following reference books are available:
- Hopkins, William Lindsay. Some Wills from Burned Counties of Virginia and Other Wills Not Listed in the Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632-1800. Richmond, Virginia: W.L. Hopkins, 1987. FHL Book 975.5 P2h.
- Currer-Briggs, Noel. Virginia Settlers and English Adventurers, Abstracts of Wills, 1484-1798, and Legal Proceedings, 1560-1700, Relating to Early Virginia Families. Three volumes in one. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1970. FHL Book 975.5 P2cb.
- King, George H.S. "Copies of Extant Wills from Counties Whose Records Have Been Destroyed," which was originally published in Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, was reprinted in Volume 4 of Genealogies of Virginia Families From Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine.
- McGhan, Judith. Virginia Will Records. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1982. FHL Book 975.5 P2v. Excerpted and reprinted from The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, the William and Mary Quarterly Historical Magazine, and Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine.
Many additional Virginia will abstracts have been published, see: Virginia Probate Record Abstracts.
Understanding the Virginia probate laws and how they changed over time can help us learn how the estate was administered, taxed, and distributed and might help to solve difficult genealogical problems.
Additional information about Virginia state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. Hening's Statutes at Large (13 vols., covers 1619-1792) are available online.
- FindLaw has information on Virginia State Probate Courts.
- Sources for Virginia Genealogy Research at About.com has a bibliography of sources for learning about Virginia Probate Records.
- Jurisdiction information of Virginia courts can be found at the Library of Virginia Internet site.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."
- This index is an expanded version of Clayton Torrence's Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632-1800 (1930; reprint, Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1985). FHL Book 975.5 P22t; FHL Film 29274.
- John Vogt, William T. Kethley and Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond Virginia). Will and Estate Records in the Virginia State Library A Researcher's Guide (Athens, Ga.: Iberian Pub. Co., c1987). FHL Book 975.5 P23v.
- John Frederick Dorman, "Review of Genealogies of Virginia Families From Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1982):59. Digital version at American Ancestors ($). FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 26 (1982)