Curious how your ancestors dispensed of their personal belongings? Historical wills and probate files not only provide a fascinating glimpse into your forebears’ lives, but the naming of heirs usually offers valuable genealogical information. Follow these steps to find them:
1. Learn the location. You’ll first need to figure out which repository likely holds your ancestor’s will. Look in a reference such as the Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists edited by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack and Erin Nevius (Family Tree Books) to learn where probate files for your ancestral county are kept and what years they cover.
2. Identify indexes. Search the catalog of the Family History Library (FHL) or other genealogical libraries for microfilmed indexes to probate and wills in that county. (You can rent microfilms from the FHL through a local Family History Center.) The index will provide the volume and page number where you can find your forebear’s record.
3. Acquire the document. If you’re lucky, the library with the index also has microfilm of the actual records. But most often, you’ll have to write or visit the appropriate courthouse to obtain a will or probate file.
For an in-depth guide to wills and probate, see the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine.
From the November 2009 Family Tree Magazine