Probate records can add more to your genealogy than heirs and possibly death dates; it can add stories and intrigue.
At the Massachusetts Archives, I held the actual probate papers for my seventh great grandfather. He died intestate (without a will), probably of smallpox which was epidemic in Boston at the time (1721). At first, I wasn’t sure I had the correct ancestor as I paged through papers of administration, inventory lists, receipts and expenses. And then I discovered a letter to the court from the orphaned children’s uncle, explaining how my ancestor sent his children to Ipswich to live with their uncle right before his own death. The probate packet didn’t give me the names of the children, but it provided enough details to piece together his life and circumstances.
While looking for an obituary in a newspaper, I unexpectedly found a one-liner mentioning the probate of my third great grandmother’s estate. I had pictured her as a poor, illiterate immigrant, so “estate” sounded too big of a word for her, really. When I received the probate papers, however, I discovered my ancestor had $314.72 deposited in the bank. She had no real estate or personal property to speak of, just cash in a bank. Curious. The details are scant, but at least the bare-bones document ties together three previously presumed-related siblings.
Robin goes on to explain how to go about finding Massachusetts Probate Records. A good article. Check it out. You might want to turn your sound volume down. The site was broadcasting news of a sports event when I was reading…