Oklahoma Genealogical Society
Research in Probate Records
From Oklahoma Genealogical Society Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 3, September 1964
Transcribed to Electronic form by Jo White
(Notes by Mrs. Edith S. Smith, OGS Member)
When we think of probate records we automatically think of a will. Wills are very valuable to us but there are so many other probate records to look for that have equal and in some cases much more value. It depends on what our particular problem is – for instance: If you had reason to believe there was a change of the name you were working on—
Here is where an Order of the Court, proved to be the most valuable. The need was the children of Jacob Smith of Washington County, Indiana. The court records show there was a law suit (sic) over the estate dated 30 March 1835. “Be it remembered that Elijah Smith, Jacob Smith, Allen Smith, Elizabeth Snodgrass, late Elizabeth Smith, widow of Alexander Snodgrass, Mary Barrett, wife of Luke Barrett, late Mary Smith and Susanah Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, prove in open court to the satisfaction of the court by the testimony adduced that they are the only children and heirs at law of the Jacob Smith late of said County, deceased a revolutionary pensioner of the United States, that the said Jacob Smith departed this life on the third day of February, 1835, leaving no widow.”
This document not only gave the children’s names; but gave the names of the ones they had married, and that Jacob had been in military service. The will, in this case, would have been of much less value.
Another document you may watch for, if you are doing research yourself is a Memorandum of Agreement, Stipulation and Conveyance. This is in (lieu? J.W.) of the will being questioned and the parties were able to make an agreement to settle without a legal contest of the will. This document was filed by a legal heir, stating only that he was a legal heir and the next of kin to the deceased. The will states only, “This is my last will. I give all my property on my death to John Doe who has cared for me in my last years.” It was signed.
Now take the petition of this same probate and you would assume there were no living relatives, but with further searching you find the Memorandum that there is a living relative – but who is he? (T)he relationship is not given but you do have something to work on if you find a situation such as this in your own research. A petition should always give the names and addresses of all the legal heirs; and if minors or adults, many give the ages. All give the death date.
In many instances, the Administrator has to file a bond and that is very helpful if you cannot find anything else.
Always ask if there has been an estate probated or the appointment of an administrator or a determination of death for your subject. This brings more results sometimes than to ask only – “Is there a will for John Doe?”
If the property was (sic) owned jointly, the petition for determination of death would be what you would need.
When the probate case is closed, there is a final account which also gives the heirs and how the property has been distributed; but if a large estate, copies would be quite expensive.
When writing, address your letter to the Clerk of the Probate Court, County Court Building, the name of the county seat town and state. Always check first to see if a given county you are writing to was in existence at the date you are asking for the search to be made. If not, what was the county a part of at the time of the subjects’ death? Keep in mind each letter you write costs [postage] – the initial stamp, the stamped self addressed envelope, and a stamp for a thank you letter – if one is sent. There are two books (in print) that are a “must” for you to find the county seats and count organization dates: The Handy Genealogist, George B. Everton, and Research in American Genealogy, E. Kay Kirkham. They are available locally from F. Conover Jacobson, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
ESTATE RECORDS for Future Research
Administrators and Executors are required to maintain their files on estates for a specific period of time following settlement or the last payment of taxes despite an approved “final account and release – if for no other purpose than to be able to meet future inquiry for tax purposes. Perhaps an administrator or executor still has “estate papers” meaningful to you or your heirs that he no longer needs to keep – you might inquire and be able to obtain copies of the records your grandchildren will be buying when they become researchers – many will have original signatures. (Editor)
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