Finding Wills when the Probate Records Appear to be Silent

If the courthouse burns, if your family did not get the original will or a copy of it as part of probate, If you can’t find evidence of a will in the most common places–consider where evidence of the will or the information from the will itself might be found. With all of the computer databases now available, and especially the merging of data from a variety of input sources, your chance of finding the will you seek is about the best it will ever get.

Colonial Reports sent to England by American officials–very important resource

Original wills were given to the estate after recording them in the will books–in the county courthouse or the town hall. Except in New Jersey and North Carolina where the original wills were filed with the state. In Maryland, New York, and South Carolina all local records during the Colonial period were filed with the state, including wills. Before 1790, check the state records.

Church or Cemetery files–if this jurisdiction was given a bequest, a copy of the will featuring that bequest in often made and filed with the church or cemetery.

Court Cases and Documents–equity or chancery cases where the distribution of property is challenged, a copy of the will with bequests and supporting documents is made part of the case.

Another State–bequests of property physically located in Maryland required that a copy of the will be filed in Maryland as well as where the deceased lived and died. A court action in Augusta County Virginia sent a runner to Wilkes County Georgia to get a certified copy of the will. It was abstracted in Lyman Chalkley’s three-volume set of Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia. Digital copy available at

Newspapers–local, state, and national papers as well as attorneys journals and publications including notices of estate/probate filing, summaries of wills and other probate documents, notification of heirs.

Enjoy the research! Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS And don’t forget to check the libraries close to your home–WorldCAT will give you a list by zipcode.


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