Monday, December 7, 2015

Are There Really Rhode Island Probate Records From 1582?

I listed "Rhode Island Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932" in the listing of new and updated databases on yesterday, and reader stluno astutely commented:

"Really, how can we take Ancestry seriously when they perpetrate such an egregious anachronism as Rhode Island probate records from 1582? Is it a typo? Well, when you go to the web site, it's the same date. Is there something about Rhode Island history I don't know? Yes, there are many things about Rhode Island history I don't know, but I do know as sure as the sun rises in the morning that there was no Rhode Island at all in 1582. The Ancestry 'dudes' lost a great deal of 'street cred' with the New Jersey wills and probate records mess, to cite one example, and as far as I can tell, they 'could care less.'"

I've noticed that some of the state databases for Wills and Probates have relatively early dates, some of them many years before the first European settlers in the colony.  I thought that there was probably an explanation for these entries.

I searched the Rhode Island Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932 using just "1582" in the "Any Event" field, and there was one match:

The record summary for this is for Peter Greene:

The record summary has this information:

*  Name:  Peter Greene
*  Probate Date: 20 May 1582
*  Probate Place:  Providence, Rhode Island, USA
*  Inferred Death Date:  About 1582
*  Inferred Death Place:  Arizona, USA
*  Item Description:  Vol,. A-C

The summary implies that Peter Greene died in about 1582 in Arizona, USA with a record dated 20 May 1582 recorded in Providence, Rhode Island.

I clicked the "View" link to see the actual record:

The document is a typed transcription of the will of Peter Greene of Bowridge Hill, son of Richard Greene, dated 20 May 1582, proved in London 1 June 1583, on image 51 of 330 in the "Vol. A-C" volume of the Providence records in the Rhode Island Wills and Probate database.

I doubt that they had typewriters in Providence in 1583, so I went back to the first images in this volume in the Wills and Probate collection.

Here is image 4 from this volume:

This record is from the "Briggs Collection," collected by Anthony Tarbox Briggs, found at the Rhode Island Historical Society, and filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah at Providence on 16 May 1950.

Here is image 3 in this volume:

This volume with the 1582 typed will transcript is on US/CAN Microfilm 22,302 at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

I clicked on the down arrow in the "breadcrumb trail" at the top left of the screen above, and can see that there are hundreds of "volumes" for Providence in this Rhode Island Wills and Probate Records database.

My conclusion is:

*  The volume ("Vol. A-C") with the 1582 will transcription is a collection of wills collected and transcribed or abstracted by Anthony Tarbox Briggs.

*  The volume was microfilmed by GSU in 1950, and was given the microfilm number of 22,302.

*  The microfilm was digitized by the Family History Library.

*  The digital images from this microfilm were indexed by and placed in the Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932 database online.

*  I have no clue how the indexers found that the probate place was Arizona!

The lesson here is that these state will and probate record databases may have records like this that were not written or proved in the state jurisdiction claimed.  There may be records like this that were created by genealogy researchers and not by probate court clerks or judges.

So a thank you to reader stluno for raising the issue.  The answer is no, it's not a typo, yes it is in this database, and it only makes sense when you actually see the record, figure out why and how it's in a specific volume, and can understand how it was included.

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver

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Diane B said...

Very interesting, Randy. The Briggs Collection operates from a paper card catalog at the R.I. Historical Society Research Center. Anthony Tarbox Briggs was evidently a prolific local genealogist. I think you are making a good point about the dates; they appear random or wrong but really, that's our fault if we make wrong assumptions about what SHOULD be in a local probate collection.

smhb said...

A standard practice for archival collections is to identify and state the inclusive date range of materials for the entire collection. Ancestry and Family Search both practice this standard.

smhb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geolover said...

Well done, Randy. Database providers' methods are always good to know about.

Marian said...

A quick search will show you that ALL of the records in the database list Arizona as the inferred death place. Maybe someone meant to type Rhode Island? Either way it's a field that needs to be ignored across the board.

Dona said...

I can see how this record got there, but shouldn't the database of Briggs' transcriptions be classified in a different way? And why can't Ancestry go in and correct the erroneous field that contains Arizona for all these records? If they don't, that just shows they don't care about being sloppy and incorrect. We, the users, shouldn't have to go in and submit corrections for every record.

SAMPUBCO said...

Good Grief! I checked on my Aldrich family, every one deemed to have died in Arizona. Despite the fact Ancestry has the films of probate books from the towns of Providence County, Rhode Island. Every one listed "died in Arizona"

SAMPUBCO said...

And to make it absolute worse - Ancestry does not get it that the probate records are NOT under any circumstance filed at county level. They are filed at TOWN level only.

Unknown said...

A belated comment on this issue, since I introduced it. Thanks, Randy, for the most clear and helpful explication of the seemingly anachronistic date range for the Rhode Island records. I went through the first 75 or so images, and discovered that images 50 through 53 are typescripts (undated, uncertified) of four English wills of members of the Greene family from 1582, 1606, 1617, and 1656. They (the wills, not the family members) are sandwiched into apparently genuine Rhode Island will typescripts, some actually court-certified in 1909-1912, almost all from the 18th century. Images 20 through 29 are of Chenango County, NY wills from 1817 through 1890!

Reading the "About" information given for this database, we learn that we will find "images of probate records for all" Rhode Island counties. Moreover, the records "come from a collection of microfilm that took years to compile" and that they have been "brought together from multiple courthouses to give you a single source to search." Interesting. Even endearing, in light of that spuriously personalized "you." But hardly an adequate description of the reality (at least when it comes to those first 75 images): this is a grab bag--oh, all right, miscellany--of probate material in the broadest sense from 16th century England, 18th century Rhode island, and 19th century New York.

So...with great regard for the original collector of this information and its inherent value, it's not about him or it, it's "all about" Ancestry and their shoddy (sounds like something else, but I do mean shoddy, not to mention insulting) and disrespectful (to the records themselves) approach to the "great" 2015 "release" of probate records form the entire country. What can we learn? That Ancestry does not at present have remotely scholarly standards? But we knew that already. I guess it boils down to Caveat Emptor, but that's pretty sad.

In the spirit of "losing My Religion," I've said too much, I haven't said enough.