Another important research tool is the probate record. This includes a person's will, estate inventory, estate settlement and other records related to a person's passing. Unfortunately, many of our ancestors died intestate [without a will], so look for notification of that as well.
The will, dictated or written by the deceased, should include the following:
- date of the will and where written
- names of heirs [generally the kids are listed in birth order, but not necessarily] and
when they are entitled to their share
- frequently the testator will name "my eldest son," etc.
- unfortunately, the testator is just as likely to name the eldest son and lump the rest of
the offspring as "my other sons" or "my daughters"
- bequests to the heirs [wife, children, other relatives] and the division of the property
- wife [hopefully her name] and her share of the estate
- executor or executrix
- codicil [changes made to the will]
The will should have the names of witnesses and the recorder [with date recorded]
The inventory should include all property [real estate & personal estate] with name of people bequeathed or claiming certain property
The estate settlement should include final distribution of the estate [who got what], any documents contesting the will or otherwise related to the settlement
The probate file should help you narrow down the death date of the testator, give you the 1st name of the spouse, names of the children, if any of the kids are minors [upon reaching his/her 18th year, etc.], other family members, ages of kids, if kids are married [daughters' husbands], and numerous other details on the family.
Wills may turn up in unusual places. Benjamin Prall's will was never recorded. It was left with an innkeeper when Benjamin fell ill on a business trip. The innkeeper submitted the will after reading of Benjamin's death. The will and the innkeeper's affidavit were on file at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society.