Alabama Probate Records
This entry was originally written by Robert S. Davis and Mary Bess Paluzzi for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
The office of the probate judge, designated as the “orphans court” before 1850, is the county office where the most significant genealogical records are created and maintained in Alabama. A variety of records are housed in this office.
These records may be labeled wills, estates, inventories, administrations or guardian’s bonds, and orphans’ court records. Within each category there may or may not be separate volumes labeled “record” or “minutes.” The “record” volumes contain relatively full accounts of probate proceedings, while the “minutes” volumes normally contain only brief abstracts of the proceedings. Early adoption records and records for the binding-out of poor orphans are recorded here. Until the 1900s, adoption records were not filed separately. Record books and files created especially for adoption proceedings are now closed to the public by law. Sometimes bastardy cases and naturalization records are here. In all cases these records are merely copies of the original and contain only such data as the clerk thought legally important. More significant than the clerk’s ledger, the “loose papers” contain the documents submitted to prove a will, such as the petition to probate, which listed all heirs of the deceased. Generally, these files are not housed in the record room. The researcher should request these files from the probate clerk. The office of the probate judge in Alabama also recorded other documents intermittently in probate, deed, or commissioner’s court records. Particularly useful are proofs of freedom filed by free African Americans or Native Americans (often with white deponents), indenture papers, contracts for hiring military substitutes during the Civil War, and lists of slaves brought into the state or loaned to the Confederacy. The Genealogical Society of Utah has begun microfilming these “loose papers” in Alabama counties.