Friday, August 3, 2007

Hidden Gems in Probate Records

The latest issue of Rootsweb Review arrived in my email box yesterday, and I just got around to reading it. There is a wonderful article in it and I want to post it below because it illustrates the point that I, and many others, have frequently made - that probate records are a gold mine of information.


"What a Will

By PJ DeHoog

"My great-grandmother was a Smith. Through many years of research I settled on her birthplace as Connecticut and her death location as Colorado. I was able to get her father's name and some of her siblings'.

"As I continued my quest for information about her and her family I discovered that most of her siblings were half-siblings. I think I have their mother's first name, but not her last. I know many of the family moves but not all.

"Ultimately, I needed to make some factual discoveries in Connecticut, so I hired a local researcher to find a birth, marriage, or death certificate for any of my ancestors. The response I got was totally disappointing.

"Then, about a week ago, I had the opportunity to go to LaSalle County, Illinois, where my great-grandfather came from and where he married my Smith grandmother. The Genealogy Guild in Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois was a gold-mine, not for my great-grandfather, but for my great-grandmother Smith. One of her brothers stayed in LaSalle County and became a successful farmer. When he completed his will just a few months before he passed away in 1915, he chose to split half of his estate with his siblings and their children and the other half with his wife's family. The actual probate took ten years as his wife passed away a decade after he did. By that time most of his siblings had passed away so the probate was delineated down to the children or children's children of the siblings.The fantastic part of it all is that every name of the heirs was listed--both those alive and deceased at the time of the probate.

"Further, there were addresses for nearly every one of them. I was thrilled. I copied nearly 100 pages of this probate and once home began entering them into my Family Tree Maker database. I have the 2007 version so it triggered me to possible matches. By the time I finished adding all the information, I had nearly 300 more people in my database.

"I always thought the Smith side of my family was going to be like my White family--nearly impossible to find--but thanks to a successful sibling I was able to put nearly every piece of this family's puzzle together, including their connection with Connecticut."

"Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 1 August 2007, Vol. 10, No. 31."

Isn't that a wonderful story? Now I'm wondering just who the Smith people are in the story - could they be related to my Ranslow Smith? Would PJ DeHoog please contact me at rjseaver(at)

Quite often, the key to solving a genealogy puzzle or brick wall is not through your ancestors, but through the family members (e.g., siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins), colleagues and neighbors of your ancestors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have Smith and White ancestors too. Throw in a few Thompsons as well, and it makes me grateful for the more unusual last names in my family tree.

Thanks for sharing the article and tip about probate records.