Monday, September 14, 2015

Winner: A Twofer in Ancestry's New Jersey Wills and Probate Collection, But!

We had an extended and interesting discussion today in the Mondays With Myrt Hangout on Air (watch video at and see the community discussion at about using the Ancestry Wills and Probate collection, followed by discussion of transcriptions and abstracts and then veered into reading handwriting.

During the Ancestry collection discussion, I showed how I found the specific state database using the Ancestry Card Catalog, how I searched for a name in the New Jersey Wills and Probates, 1656-1999 database, and once I found a document I wanted to capture, how to save it to a file folder.

During the demonstration, I searched for a Thomas Bloomfield who died in 1683 in Middlesex County, New Jersey, but I didn't find and probate record for the man.

I then searched for Ezekiel Bloomfield who died in 1703, and found his will in the New Jersey, Wills and Probates, 1656-1999 database:

This record summary indicates that there are four images of papers in Ezekiel Bloomfield's file, all called "Will Papers."  I clicked on the link to "View" the record (on the left aside of the screen at the bottom of the thumbnail image).

That opened the first image of the four images for Ezekiel Bloomfield:

Note the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen above - that makes it easy to navigate from one image to another or to navigate about six images left or right at a time.

The filmstrip say "Ezekiel Bloomfield, Images 155-158."  The image above was Image 155, and has the entire will of Ezekiel Bloomfield.

The next image (number 156) has two "pages" - the left-hand page for the oath taken by the witnesses for Ezekiel Bloomfield's will, but the right-hand page is another will.  Here is the screen for the right-hand page:

This image is the will of Thomas Blumfield, Ezekiel's father, from 1683.

The third image (157) in the Ezekiel Bloomfield file is a continuation of the will of Thomas Blumfield.  

The fourth image (158) is the oath taken in 1683 by the witnesses of the will of Thomas Blumfield on the left-hand page, and another record on the right-hand page.  Here is a screen shot of the right-hand page:

The image above is for a guardianship record for James Bollen and Anna Bollen, children of James Bollen of Woodbridge which nominates Samuel Moore and Nathaniel Fitz Randolph as their guardian in 1683.

The next two images, numbers 159 and 160, also are associated with this guardianship record, but don't have a name associated with them.  

So we actually have three probate records in Images 155 to 160, one for Ezekiel Bloomfield, one for Thomas Bloomfield, and one for the guardianship of James Bollen's children.  Only one of these is indexed - the Ezekiel Bloomfield will.

The wills in these two will book volumes are not in chronological order or alphabetical order.  They seem to be in a random order for a year range.

How did this happen?  I think it's because of two factors:

*  These images are from two Will Books (Volumes 9 and 10) in the "All Counties" section of the New Jersey Wills and Probates collection.  They appear to be the original probate papers, front and back, in a number of different hands, and are not court clerk copies.  They have, somehow (pasted or taped?), been put into these will books, which are also available on FHL microfilm.   

*  The indexing.  These particular will books did not contain an index, so, apparently, indexed them.  I have looked at about 100 images on this particular Will book set, and found at least five wills that were not indexed and were not found in a search on

So here are more warnings about the Ancestry, Wills and Probates, collection:

*  Don't trust the index to be complete.  The searchable Ancestry index only is for the primary person whose name is on the file, presumably indexed by  

*  If you cannot find a probate record for your target person, but are reasonably sure that they had a probate record, you may have to search image by image in this collection.   

That said, having this probate collection set indexed is definitely a benefit, but it seems to me that the indexing is not complete.  At least the searcher can go through it at home image by image as if it is digital microfilm and not have to go to the Family History Library or a FamilySearch Library to access it.

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Sharon said...

I have found the same problem, probate files for several people all run together. Also, there are some estates missing, apparently the rolls of microfilm were not digitized in several cases.

A hint if you can't find what you want: check NJ Archives Abstract of Wills 1670-1817 on Ancestry for early estates. If you find an abstract, at least you know there was an estate probated, and you'll have spelling of the name and date.

I think the original papers for those early estates were organized alphabetically for each book, so if you can't find the actual documents for the one you want, start with a name before that in the abstracts and page your way through the documents. This is actually what you did by happenstance.

For later estates, check Index of Wills prior to 1901 on Ancestry. This often gives the file number (usually 4 digits and a letter). You can then use this in keyword section to (hopefully) find what you need. At the least you will get spelling, county and year so you can search that way.

The Abstract of Wills 1670-1817 volumes have an index in the back of each volume that indexes all the people mentioned in the estate: wives, children, witnesses, neighbors, whoever. But this index was not included in Ancestry's index. So you have to go to each volume and browse the back of the book until you find the "other persons" index. And, just another bit of trivia. The other persons index does NOT include the name of the subject/deceased person/testator, because the book itself is alphabetical.

Isn't this what makes NJ research fun?


Melissa Barker said...

Randy, being an archivist in a county archives I see this all the time. You can not imagine how many "loose" pages or pages that have been pasted into books I have found in records books. Then when they are microfilmed or digitized the person doing this process just doesn't really know what to do with them so they just run them through as they are. I have noticed one aspect of indexing with any site like or, the indexers are give the individual pages to index but they don't seem to have access to the entire book or collection so that they can assess what condition the records are in which would help them in their indexed endeavors. Thank you for shedding light on this all too often indexing error.

Melissa Barker
Houston County, TN. Certified Archivist
Professional Genealogist