Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Finding Gold In Probate Records

Over the holidays I spent some time looking for Michigan probate records in the updated collection at Family Search. While I have not always been so lucky, I found for the first time a document that confirms both the death date and names of children for my third great-grandfather, Frederick Goff, jr. Before this all I had was an unsourced death date from others. To make matters worse, other trees had an earlier death date that pre-dated by a couple of years the birth of my gg-grandmother. While her death certificate lists Frederick as her father, that is hardly proof.

For these reasons, Frederick's case was the first I wanted to locate. Fortunately, the records for Cass county include a number of types of probate records, many with indices. I first found Frederick in a probate journal before digging into the probate packet files.

In the probate journal I found a document that stated Frederick's date of death in 1856 and listed the names and approximate ages of his two children. I was doing the genealogy happy dance that night. Once I riffled through the probate packets I found one more thing that answered a nagging question. I knew that Frederick's widow had remarried in 1863, but I had never succeeded in finding Mary in the 1860 census. It turns out that she remarried several months after his death to a man appointed as the administrator of Frederick's estate. Mystery solved.

I understand how beginning to look for probate records can seem daunting. There are lots of files and you may not know where to start. Let me assure you that you are not alone. I haven't used these records much either and certainly don't feel as comfortable using them as, say, census records. The beauty of these online records is that you can search to your heart's content and no one has to know that you aren't confident using them. Just pick a county to start looking for indexes. They may not be in separate files so just check the beginning of each record type. Keep in mind that there may be several volumes included in each link so you'll need to skip ahead through the images to check each index before you cross that file off your list. Just keep at it so you can do your own happy dance.

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