Ancest4 ™ - Timothy R Conrad's Genealogy Services

Tim

Sorted estate record links at Ancestry.com

In many cases, ancestry.com has included multiple books in one link. So you really need to hunt around to find the subsequent books. It takes time to find the break points between volumes, or find the surnames in and index because they were originally microfilmed for people with tape viewers. Now that we have computer access to each page, nobody should have to flip around so much (only the first person). Following are the counties that I've been most interested, so as I break out the records, I save them on these web pages for others...

You may not realize, but ancestry.com has huge numbers of estate records and many/most are not indexed. You'll never find your ancestor in these records using only the search box - you need to browse the files manually. In some cases, ancestry had indexed the main "index pages", but the actual wills and estate records are elsewhere in the files with all the really cool information.

I originally the hardest time accessing Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Often, the ancestry pulldown wouldn't work (because of the huge number of links) and the records were only partially sorted, with the years all out-of-order. I finally had enough of this mess and used some Linux computer scripts to put things back in order.

Tip: When the index says "Vols 1,2,3", that means there are three different book volumes in this section. Each book may have an index and the index may be at the beginning, end, in another book, or non-existent. I didn't have time to split these all out, but if you email me for example that Vol 2 starts on page 301, and Vol 3 starts on page 602, tell me and I can split this into three different links (like ancestry should have done!!). This will save other people time later. The partitions are often almost equal in size. To find the partition, jump out far enough so that the page number suddenly drops. So if you jump out by hundreds, you might see the book pages go 200, 400, then 48 - I just passed the break. So go back about 24 (48/2 when there are two pages per image) and you'll be at the beginning of that volume.

Tip: If ancestry says "hit a snag" when trying to jump several pages, just change the URL manually. So if the imageId is 007726862_00006 and you want to change to page 500, change from the image # to the end of the URL to just be 007726862_00500. That is, change the last three digits of that number to be the page number and it will fix it. You can delete the "backurl" stuff.

Tip: If you want to know if the records you're looking at are already indexed, click on the "people icon" to the right of the page number. If there are names listed that match the page you're looking at, then it's indexed. If not, then you will have to continue browsing by hand (still cheaper than driving to the courthouses!).

Helpful generic links:


Estate Research Tips

Although each county (and state) has their own collections of records, and only some representative records are available on-line, there are a few things that they have in common and it helps to know the estate process to make the best use of these records. I'm only going to give a brief overview - if you're really interested, there are more detailed sources on the net.

When someone died, and they had assets (or debts), the government has an interest to make sure that the debts are paid, and the heirs receive what their entitled to if anything is left. You'll find a lot of people died under the radar by disposing of their assets before they died.

After the person dies, the heirs will retrieve a will, if there was one and the witnesses to the will can present the will to the county to authenticate the will. This is the probate date shown in the court records. Note that many times researchers will use either the date the will was written or the probate date as the death date - obviously, the death occurred sometime between these dates. As a rule-of-thumb, I estimate the death date as one month before the probate date. Also note that ancestry.com will auto-populate a bogus "probate fact" with the date that the will was written, not the date it was probated (!!). If the person died "intestate", it means the person died without a will. In either case, an administrator is appointed by the court to complete the transaction.

At this point, let's consider the four main types of estate related documents:

  • Wills
  • Letters of Administration
  • Orphan's Court
  • Estate Folders

The wills exist in several forms both in the court house and online. The original will was written on a random piece of paper. These are usually copied into a Will Book at the court house. The signature in the will book is often an attempted facsimile to show at least the spelling of the original author or if they made a mark instead. Note that the witnesses to the will should *not* be close relatives, but rather disinterested parties.

Letters of Administration are issued regardless of whether the person wrote a will. So you will find more cases where LoA vs. the will books. The administrator might be a widow, and older son, or a friend of the family. In many cases, the LoA will state the relationship of the person. In some cases, the administrator was required to post a bond to ensure that the task was completed.

The Orphan's Court was involved in more than just orphans, which is confusing to most newcomers. While the OC was tasked with appointing guardians for orphan's they also handled general estate settlements (where there were no orphan's). Note that the guardians are strictly appointments for minors in matters related to the court business. The guardians were not expected to raise the children, only to represent their interests. In fact, many of those receiving a guardian only lost their father and the mother came to have an adult male (presumably with some business sense) to represent them. If a person died leaving minors, and that person's parent died, the minors might receive a guardian to represent them in the grandparent's estate. The thing to remember is to always check the Orphan's Court records because regardless of having a will, or even a Letter of Adminstration, you may find estate settlements in these documents.

All of the documents associated with an estate were usually filed in the courthouse in one folder per estate. Only some of these complete estate records are available online, but when they are, they have the most useful information in one place. Often you will find copies of the original will, documents associated with appointing guardians (which match the records in the OC dockets) as well as inventories and ads for estate sales from the newspaper. The estate folders can be difficult to navigate online, but the extra effort is well worth it.


Estate Tricks

OK, so you've got the basics down, now here are a few tricks to consider when looking at records:

  • Take note of the name's spelling and signature style. It may help connect names deeds, inventories, etc to other people of interest.
  • Check the inventory for objects that show the person's occupation (a weaver will often have a weaver's loom, for example).
  • Often, a section of the will will have a list of all the children. These are usually in birth order. Sometimes sons are in order followed by daughters in order. Beware that will abstracts may list children when they show up in the will document but miss that the will closes with a list in birth order.
  • Pay attention to exectutors. These are sometimes a brother-in-law son-in-law, but not always identified as such. They might be clues to filling in your tree.
  • Make note when the Orphan's Court lists which children are under age 14 vs. over age 14.

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