Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Using Diane Boumenot's Rhode Island Probate File Index

On her excellent One Rhode Island Family blog, Diane Boumenot wrote 8 Weeks to Better Rhode Island Genealogy Research Week 3 – Probate and Cemeteries (posted 15 April 2016) last week.

In this blog post, Diane listed ALL of the different probate record volumes for Rhode Island in Ancestry.com's Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932, by County and Town.  This is very important, because all of the Rhode Island probate records were organized by Town, not by County.  When Ancestry.com indexed some of these records, they organized them by County, with no identification of the town.  Hence, it is very difficult to access the volumes of a specific town.

I saved Diane's blog post as a PDF file using the "Print Friendly & PDF" extension in Google Chrome.  As a PDF file, I can search it for specific words or phrases.

As we've seen in other states, Ancestry.com has not indexed every record volume - they have indexed only selected volumes.  This makes it necessary to search the probate indexes in the actual record volumes by browsing through them rather than using the search fields.

I looked through my Rhode Island ancestors, and found several for whom I have a will abstract, but not the actual will or probate record.  I want to capture as many digital images as I can of these records, so I wanted to test out the Rhode Island Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932 search on Ancestry.com and Diane's index in necessary.

1)  I identified William Hawkins, who died in 1712 in Providence, as one who had a probate record - an administration.  I entered William Hawkins into the search field on Ancestry.com, and there were three matches:

All three of the matches were for a William Hawkins from 1897.

Does that mean that there is no record for my William Hawkins who died in 1712?  NO - it means that Ancestry.co, has not indexed the records that contain the 1712 records.  You can't trust the Ancestry.com probate record indexes for any state!!!

2)  So now Diane's probate file index of town record volumes comes into play.  I need an index of the town probate records to see if I can find an estate file or a clerk's record of individual pages in the records.  I perused the Providence list (which is very long!), and easily found the "Index to Probate Records, 1640-1899 (copy of a printed book)":

 3)  I went back to the "Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932" database on Ancestry.com, and selected "Providence" county in the "Browse this collection" column on the right side of the page, and found the "Index to the Probate Records, 1640-1899" record volume (this took awhile since the record volumes for every town in Providence County is on this list): 

4)  I clicked on that "Index to the Probate Records, 1640-1899" on the Browse list and easily found the page with the Hawkins surname (they were in alphabetical order) on image 78 of 179: 

So I see records for six William Hawkins:

*  William Hawkins Jr, 1712, administration, estate file A135
*  William Hawkins, 1723, will, estate file A218
*  William Hawkins, 1888, dependent child, estate file A15896
*  William W. Hawkins, 1897, will, estate file A3967
*  William W. Hawkins, 1897, custodian, estate file A3977
*  William W. Hawkins, 1888, adoption, estate file A16022

So the Ancestry.com index missed 50% of the files for persons named William Hawkins.  The first one on the list is the William Hawkins who died in 1712.

 Because I reviewed Diane's list, I knew that the Estate Files for Providence town included record volumes for a range of estate files, all of which started with the letter A.  For my William Hawkins who died in 1712, I want estate file A135.

5)  Back in Diane's list of Providence files, I found that there was a record volume for "Probate Files A1 - A484, 1646-1885:"

I can probably find William Hawkins probate records on that record volume.

6)  I went back to the Ancestry.com browse list for Providence County, and found the "Probate Files, A1-A484, 1646-1885" and clicked on it.  It opened to the first image.  I wanted A135, so I used the digital image roll at the bottom of the screen to find estate file 135, starting on image 364 of 1340:

The first image for a specific estate file will usually have the estate file number, as shown above.

I downloaded that image, then advanced to the next image, and saw the Administration record for William Hawkins on image 365 of 1340:

7)  I downloaded that image also, and then renamed them to:

*  WilliamHawkins-1712-ProbateRecord-ProvidenceProvRI-Case135-image364of1340
*  WilliamHawkins-1712-ProbateRecord-ProvidenceProvRI-Case135-image365of1340

I then moved them to the William Hawkins family file in my Ancestor Files > Family History - Seaver-Hildreth-Richmond-White > Hawkins > 01A-WilliamHawkins+ElizabethArnold > Documents computer file folder system.

8)  So there are some excellent lessons learned (or re-learned) in this search:

*  The Ancestry.com Wills and Probate Records collection for Rhode Island is extensive, and is very valuable.  The images I've seen are crisp and readable.

*  The search is inadequate.  Ancestry.com has not indexed every probate record for every state.  This can mislead researchers into thinking there is no probate record when a search fails.  Ancestry should, at least, highlight the record volume indexes for each County and encourage their users to do a search and then browse the record volume indexes.  Or index every set of indexes rather than selected record volumes.

*  Diane Boumenot's list of the probate record volumes for each County and Town is wonderful, and is necessary to use for researchers searching for Rhode Island probate records.

I am very thankful to Diane Boumenot for her extraordinary effort in listing over 800 record volumes by County and Town.  It makes using this Ancestry.com database possible.

9)  That was FUN!  You all knew I couldn't resist doing this post, right?

If you have Rhode Island ancestors, I encourage you to dive into the Ancestry database, and use Diane's list to help you find probate records for your folks.


The URL for this post is:   http://www.geneamusings.com/2016/04/using-diane-boumenots-rhode-island.html

Copyright (c) 2016, Randall J. Seaver

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