Monday, March 21, 2016

Don't Trust the Will and Probate Record Indexes

I learned another lesson over the weekend.  Perhaps other researchers can benefit from my lesson learned.

1)  I knew that there are probate records for my 5th great-grandfather, Thomas Dill (1710-1761) in Barnstable County, Massachusetts based on my research done back in the 1990s.  I knew that there was a letter of administration, an inventory, a distribution and guardianship appointments for his children.  But I didn't have record images for these documents, and I wanted record images.

2)  I thought that the collection of Massachusetts, Will and Probate Records, 1635-1991 might have them.  I put Thomas Dill in the search field in this collection, and added Barnstable County to the place name as below:

There was one search result that matched my criteria:

Yep, that's the one I want.  Thomas Dill in Barnstable in 1761.  I clicked on the "View Record" link:

To see the record, I clicked on the green "View" button:

There is the Letter of Administration, clear as a bell.  Cool.  I saved it to my Dill file folder.

3)  But wait - the search did not find any other of the probate documents.  

I knew that I could browse through these records in a County, so I went back to the database search page and scrolled through the "volumes" in the collection for Barnstable County, on the right-hand side of the screen below.  I found two volumes of interest (highlighted below):

The two volumes are:

*  Consolidated General Index to Probate Records and Cases, A-L, 1686-1950

*  Consolidated General Index to Probate Records and Cases, M-Z, 1686-1950

4)  I selected the first of these, since Dill would be between letters A and L, and quickly found the Dill listings on image 233 of 531:

Lookee there, my Thomas Dill has a number of records in his probate file, including:

*  Letters Administration                           Volume 10, page 81
*  Inventory                                                                   12         221
*  Dower                                                                        12        278
*  Appraisal of 2/3 of Real Estate                             13         167
*  Account                                                                     13           24
*  Receipt                                                                      13         235
*  Settlement                                                                 13         168
*  Children's Guardian (Moses, Thomas, Betty)     11         196, 197, 207

There were two other Thomas Dill entries on the Index page also.

5)  However, the indexing for this database listed only one item - the 1761 Letter of Administration.  I would have missed finding the other papers if I had relied solely on searching of this database,

This is very frustrating for any researcher.  Ancestry said they indexed this database for Massachusetts, and the other 49 states plus D.C.  Yet, it is apparent that the indexing is incomplete.

6)  I think that there should be an index entry for every item on the list noted above - the "Consolidated General Index" provides all of the necessary data, but Ancestry apparently ignored it in their indexing.

7)  The bottom line here is that a dedicated researcher needs to browse the "volumes" listed in the "Browse this Collection" for an index, and double check that index to ensure that they have not missed something.  That is what we had to do "back in the good old days" turning microfilm reels of FHL microfilms.

My lesson learned is:  Don't Trust the Probate Record Indexes to find all of the probate papers for a specific person in their Will and Probate Records collections.  Researchers need to Browse these collections.


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Michigan Girl said...

Excellent reminder. Thanks Randy.

Barb said...

I ran through the Ancestry Academy video when these records first came out.It was definitely helpful in using these records and it made me aware that the browsing feature needed to be used in conjunction with a search of the indexes.

Geolover said...

When the first upload of these records occurred, I ran through some QA/QC checks comparing with some material I already had. I found that for testate estates the indexing/extracts were defective, listing the date a will was written as the "probate" date and assigning that as an approximate date of death. Since wills might be probated years or decades after they were written, one could end up with some quite erroneous vital dates if using the citations as provided by Ancestry.

I hope that there have been corrections.

Just today I ran into another sort of indexing error: an estate indexed not by name of decedent at all, but by name of the person posting an Administrator's Bond on the estate. This is in Williams Co., OH in the 1850s. Eeeeeew.