Monday, April 11, 2016

Some's Massachusetts Wills and Probate Records Waypoints are Wrong

Alert Genea-Musings readers know that I have been working in the database for Massachusetts Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991.

Reader Lori Scherr has also been working in this extensive database, and has found SOME (not all, I fear) errors in the record volumes assigned to each County.  She provided some examples.

On the Massachusetts Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991 database page, a researcher can click on a County in the "Browse this collection" section and see the list of available record volumes - the Waypoints - for each County.  The screen below shows the top of the list for Plymouth County:

There are many record volumes (hundreds?) just for Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  Among them are these record volumes that don't belong to Plymouth County, and are not in the record volumes in the County they should be in.

1)  Index to Probate Records, Vol 2  (belongs in Worcester County) 

2)  Misc Statistics, Land Transfers, Church Records and Vital Statistics For Great Barrington, 1666-1870  (belongs in Berkshire County)

3)  Probate Index, 1793-1900 (belongs in Norfolk County)

4)  Wills, Inventories, Etc, 1637-1685  (belongs in Barnstable County)

5)  Probate Indices, 1636-1894  (belongs in Suffolk County) 

6)  Probate and Deed Indexes, 1640-1800  (belongs in Suffolk County) 

7)  Wills (belongs in Suffolk County) 

My guess is that this situation exists for a number of these statewide Wills and Probate Records databases, not just Massachusetts.  I have no idea how many record volumes are not included in the correct County.  I fear that this is a significant problem and not a minor problem.

Each one of these record volumes is on one FHL microfilm, and that microfilm number is on the first image of most of the record volumes on Ancestry.  Researchers probably should review the Probate records for a given county in the Family History Library Catalog and if one is missing on, then they should look for it in other Counties in the state.  That's a big task.

These record volumes are really useful probate records, but when they are not included in the correct County it can create a big problem for researchers.  Source citations should include the breadcrumb trail of state > county > record volume and will be wrong for those that were misfiled by

Ancestry'com should conduct a quality control audit of this database and make sure that the record volumes are in the proper County.  

Lori found these problems by searching for specific persons in this collection, and the search results pointed her to the correct record volume included in the wrong County.

If every principal in a will or probate record was indexed, this wouldn't be such a problem.  But we know that every principal on a record in this collection is not indexed - see

Lori was smart enough to figure out what was happening, and emailed me to discuss the issue.  She gave me permission to use her name and findings.  Excellent sleuth work, Lori!!!


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Wonderland Girl said...

Been having my own adventures in NY state--after your last blog on a similar subject, I went browsing and found a guardianship record for my 3 gggrandfather's brother. He died intestate in 1842 and the admin. papers for that were correctly indexed. But since he had at least 3 minor children, I browsed and found the guardianship record, including the three children I was pretty sure were his (they were listed with their mother who had remarried by 1850). A fourth child (aged 15) was living with another family (now doing FAN research on them) nearby. The guardianship record listed these four children, plus two other daughters. Thank you for the heads-up on this.

Geolover said...

Some estate administration records are indexed by administrator/executor but *not* by decedent. One must be looking for familiar names and not trust indexes.

In addition, FamilySearch has similar file-naming and waypoint problems for estate and land records. The NYG&BS's _New York Researcher_ magazine recently has excellent articles with the gory details, for NY. Doubtless similar problems occur for other places.

Ancestor Archaeology said...

I've been working in depth with the New York records, Orange Co primarily, and have found the same issues. I have needed to browse other counties, as Orange seems to be randomly stuck in other places. Irritating!

Unknown said...

How difficult is it to upload and title these correctly? Really tired of the current lack of work ethic.