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U.S. Wills and Probate Records

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keepsakes, heirlooms, and secrets.

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Enter what you know about an ancestor who died in the U.S.
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What Are Wills?

Before he died, Jonathan Stark (the “testator”) provided instructions on how he wanted his estate distributed. His 1919 will describes his land and property, and includes names of heirs, witnesses, and guardians.

Wills in your family story can reveal the same kinds of rich details.

What Are Probate Records?

A variety of records are created when the court deals with handling the property and affairs of the deceased. For Mr. Stark, it started with proving the will’s accuracy.

These “probate records” give insight into his life—with lists of his personal possessions, information about property and residences, and even relationship details.

Probate records for your ancestors can yield similar gems of information.

Record Type: Inventory

Item: Ford Model T Touring Car

Probate records sometimes included inventories, lists of assets with appraisals that give clues into the deceased’s wealth, lifestyle, or occupation.

Mr. Stark left a Ford Model T, a car that was mass produced by 1919 and cost about $500, making it the perfect vehicle for middle class Americans.

A little digging can give you some historical context that brings you closer to understanding your ancestor’s lot in life.

Record Type: Inventory

Item: Bed Curtains

Some inventories go in depth and give a room-by-room account of the deceased’s home.

In 1919, a man was judged by where he slept. Jonathan Stark may have been telling a story for posterity when he listed out his featherbed, sheets, and coverlets. His bed curtains implied he slept in a canopy bed.

Each item in an inventory can offer richer
meaning—fabric or tools can show how someone made their living and the contents of a larder can hint at diet.

Record Type: WILL

Item: Gold watch

Last words are some of the most important for family history. Wills represent a person’s final wishes and the legacy they wanted to leave.

Jonathan Stark bequeathed his prized gold watch to a nephew (and not his son) giving clues about what and who was important to him.

The language your ancestor used in a will can indicate their education level, even hinting at their personality. It can also add new family members to your story.


The court appointed a guardian to care for minor children and manage their inheritance. The records created are called Guardianship Papers.

Mr. Stark’s sister became guardian for his orphaned daughter, Abigail, suggesting a close sibling relationship.

Since guardians are often relatives, these records can open new avenues of research for you, with names, addresses, dates, and more.

Record Type: Distributions and Accounting

After all the evidence is examined and the proceedings are over, the final distribution of the deceased’s estate is documented in these records.

Jonathan Stark left many possessions and assets, giving context about his lifestyle before he died—and what kind of life Abigail may have had.

These records can help you learn the value and location of your ancestor’s property, stock, businesses—or if they died in debt—giving you insight into the life circumstances of their heirs.