Monday, October 15, 2012

Finding Daniel Spangler's Probate Records on FamilySearch - the Russell Index System

I've been mining the Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994 collection on for some time now.  

This post describes the search for the Daniel Spangler probate records in Mercer County, which I transcribed today in Amanuensis Monday - Probate Records for Daniel Spangler (1781-1851) of Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

The search in Mercer County was difficult because of the complexities of the record sets available. In Mercer County, as in most counties, there are multiple record sets.  

For Mercer County, Pennsylvania, there are several sets of probate records:

*  Estate Index, 1804-1971 (11 indexes, by surname)
*  Orphans Court Dockets, 1804-1867 (4 sets)
*  Proceedings Index, 1804-1971 (11 sets)
*  Register's Dockets, 1804-1908 (1 set)
*  Wills, 1804-1917 (9 sets).

I knew that Daniel Spangler died in 1851, and had resided in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  The discovery process proceeded in this way:

1)  In the Mercer County Estate Index, 1804-1971 collection, I clicked on the volume for surnames S-T.  The initial look was very confusing because this Index uses the Russell Index, which can be described this way:

"To Locate Names in the Index:
Determine first key-letter following initial letter in Family Name.  Find section number in the column headed by said key-letter, opposite given name initial desired.  Names not containing a key-letter will be located under 'Misc.'  Corporations, etc. will be located under the first key-letter following the initial letter in the first word of the name, or if no key-letter, under 'Misc.'  Always omit the article 'The.'"

The instruction page and table is shown below:

So if I'm looking for Daniel Spangler, the key LMNRT letter in SpaNgler is N, his first name starts with D, so when I look in the chart above, I see that I need to find Page 43.  If I was searching for Martin Carringer, I would search for page 114 (key letter R, given name M) .  If I was searching for Stephen Cox, I would look for page 156 (key letter Misc., given name S).

That's seems simple...until you realize that the FamilySearch collection image numbers do not correspond exactly with the desired Russell Index page number.  After figuring this out, I found the correct page on Image 51 (of 955) in this volume:

That entry for Daniel Spangler told me that his probate papers are in File Number O.S. 1664, with Proceedings in Volume 17, page 74, Block 5.

2)  In the Mercer County Proceedings Index, Vol. 17-19 collection, I found Volume 17, Page 74 on Image 94 (of 891):

The information about the papers in Daniel Spangler's probate packet is in Block 5 above (lower left-hand corner).

This entry tells me that there are papers for:

*  Letters-Bond-Aug. 13, 1951
*  Inventory-Sept. 6, 1851
*  Sale List, Sept. 11, 1851
*  Sale of Real Estate:  Docket = OC, Vol. = D, Page = 93, Date = 17 Sept. 1851
*  Account - Mar. 10, 1856:  Docket = Acc, Vol. = 2, Page 387, Date = 50 Apr. 1856
*  .......................................  Docket = OC, Vol. = E, Page =320, Date = 50 Apr 1856

My interpretation of this is that only three of these six records are available in the Probate Court Record books - two are in the Orphans court records (OC) and one is in the Account records (Acc).  The Account records are not available on FamilySearch, but the Orphans Court records for this time period are available.

3)  In the Orphans Court Docket, 1850-1858 collection, I found Volume D, Page 93 on Image 55 (of 684) with the Sale of the Real Estate:

The probate paper record for the Sale of the Real Estate is on the right-hand side of the image above.  I transcribed this and it is included in Amanuensis Monday - Probate Records for Daniel Spangler (1781-1851) of Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

The probate paper for the Account is in Volume E, Page 320, on Image 503 (of 684):

The probate paper record for the Account in 1856 is in the upper part of the left=-hand page above.  I transcribed this and and it is included in Amanuensis Monday - Probate Records for Daniel Spangler (1781-1851) of Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

4)  All of the Probate Records for Mercer County, Pennsylvania are available on microfilm through the Family History Library Catalog.  Unfortunately for me, the O.S. (Old System) Probate Files are not available on microfilm or in digital format.

5)  I wanted to post this because many researchers are going to start using the Probate Records for many states on FamilySearch, and discover that they will have to use the Russell Index process above in order to find their folks and their records (or give up after getting frustrated because they don't understand the system.

Once you understand the Russell Index system, it becomes easier.  However, the FamilySearch collection images are not on the Pages listed by the indexes - you have to search for them.  It becomes easier with practice by guessing an Image number, checking the page number that comes up, and then guessing another image number.  Eventually, you can use the back or forward arrows to find the page you want.

This is more difficult to do in the digital space than on microfilm, but, of course, you can do it at home at any time of day, and you don't have to rent a number of microfilms (it would have been 3 different films in the search above - probably over a two month period) at the FHC.

Lastly, not every County in every State uses the Russell Index.  You may get lucky and find your county of interest actually has a consolidated list by surname first letter that leads you to the probate records easily.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Mariann Regan said...

Randy, your explanations are always so very clear, detailed, and concrete. I remember that you were the one whose blog taught me how to best access the 1940 census when it first came out -- and I went on to search an entire county, district by district.

As I learn more about sources and record sets, I will return to your explanations. I just ordered the classic Professional Genealogy by Elizabeth Shown Mills (40% discount). The various sources available in local historical collections are still mind-boggling to me!

Thank you for this post.

Jeff Hodge said...

This has got to be the mother of all citations. If you can write one, Randy, you'll be the crown Prince of Citations!