Maryland Probate Records

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

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Before 1777 estates were recorded in the Prerogative Court, thus the records are “complete” despite courthouse fires and other losses at the county level. These include wills, inventories, accounts, balances of final distribution, and testamentary proceedings, all indexed at the state archives. For the 41 volumes of Prerogative Court wills (now at the Maryland State Archives and described in the work by Hartsook and Skordas cited under Land Records), see James M. Magruder, Jr., comp., Index of Maryland Colonial Wills, 1634–1777, 3 vols. (1933; reprint in one vol., with additions by Louise E. Magruder, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986). The wills through 1743 were abstracted by Jane Baldwin Cotton in The Maryland Calendar of Wills, 8 vols. (1904–28; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968), and continued in eight more volumes by F. Edward Wright from 1744 through 1777 (Westminster, Md.: Family Line Publications, 1994–97). Abstracts of later wills were also made by Annie Walker Burns, comp., Abstracts of Maryland Wills (Books 24–38, 1744–73), 15 parts (Annapolis, Md.: the author, 1938–45), although these abstracts are filled with errors, and by James M. Magruder, Jr., comp., Maryland Colonial Abstracts: Wills, Accounts and Inventories, 1772–1777, 5 vols. (1934–39; reprint in one vol., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968). See also Index to Inventories of Estates, 1718–1777 (Annapolis, Md.: Hall of Records Commission, 1947), and the following works compiled by Vernon L. Skinner, Jr., published by Family Line Publications of Westminster, Md.: Abstracts of the Inventories of the Prerogative Court of Maryland (1718–77), 17 vols. (1981–88); Abstracts of the Inventories and Accounts of the Prerogative Court of Maryland, 1685–1718, 11 vols. (1992–97); Abstracts of the Administration Accounts of the Prerogative Court of Maryland (1718–77) (1995–99); and Abstracts of the Balance Books of the Prerogative Court of Maryland (1755–77), 3 vols. (1995–97) covering Libers 2-7. For Liber 1 of the Balance Books, covering 1751 to 1755, see Debra Smith Moxey, comp., Maryland Balance Book (Madison, Md.: Dorchester Roots, 1993).

After 1777 probates were recorded in the county Orphans’ Court. Indexes to wills kept in courthouses have been published for the counties of Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Kent, Prince George’s, Saint Mary’s, Somerset, and Washington. Abstracts of many county wills have been published, including Anne Arundel, Caroline, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s, Saint Mary’s, Somerset, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico, and Washington. The twenty volumes for Baltimore County (1783–1845), compiled by Annie Walker Burns, should be checked with original records for accuracy. Leslie and Neil Keddie published earlier Baltimore County wills for 1666 to 1760 (Salisbury, Md.: Family Tree Bookshop, 2002). Some abstracts are found in journals, such as those for Frederick County in Western Maryland Genealogy, as are indexes, such as that for Carroll County in the Carrolltonian (1984). Other county estate records that have been published include administrations, inventories, guardianship bonds, and distributions.

While some early original will books and other record volumes of estate records have been retained in the counties, most of these have been transferred to the state archives and are also available there on microfilm. Microfilms of early records are found in a few of the counties.

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