Monday, July 2, 2007

Colonial Probate Records - Estate Distributions

While working in the Rhode Island colonial probate records over the past months, I've noticed that very few estate inventories mentioned real estate - they all dealt with the personal estate. The wills did mention the real estate, and most of it went to the oldest son.

I was reading the book "The Family Tree Solver" by Marsha Hoffman Rising (Cincinnati, Family Tree Books, 2005) the other night, and she has included a table of the different types of estate distribution for each colony (which she obtained from the book "Inheritance in America: From Colonial Times to the Present." by Carole Shammas et al, New Brunswick, Rutgers University, 1987).

The table indicates that:

Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia distributed estates according to "Primogeniture - the eldest son inherited all real property." All eliminated Primogeniture by 1791 (the book gives the exact years).

Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania distributed estates according to "Equal Distribution with a double portion to the eldest son."

Marsha's section on this subject noted that many individuals did not follow the practice of Primogeniture and distributed land to all sons, or even to all children, especially in New York, in German families, in areas that did not like English common law, and in times closer to the American Revolution.

So - there is my answer! Rhode Island was a Primogeniture state until 1770 (except for between 1718 and 1728). I did not know that.

Let me plug Marsha's book also - this book is one my five favorite genealogy resource books - because she uses real examples from her research to illustrate her points.

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