As valuable as probate records are, I have posted before about the need to search every step in the probate process, as opposed to just viewing the will and the inventory.
One of the first steps in the probate process is that an individual needs to petition the court for the authority to probate the estate. Depending upon whether the deceased had a will, the petitioner will ask the court for either “Letters Testamentary” or in cases where there was no will, “Letters of Administration.” The petitioner is usually a family member, but could also be a creditor of the estate. Sometimes these records are mixed in with other probate records, but they can be also found bound together in a single book.
The value of these records is that they *usually state the existing heirs at law of the deceased individual.* Remember: besides the fact that most people did not create a will, when they did, they did not have to name all of that person’s heirs. Like many other records, earlier ones were handwritten into the court records, while later in time we start to see pre-printed forms. Here are just a few examples:
From my previous post, Leanna Peaker’s petition in Kent County, MD named all her deceased husband’s siblings; it was especially valuable because it shows his sister’s married names and also the cities where they lived:
Nellie Kneesi’s 1932 petition in Montgomery County, MD likewise did the same:
This is Cora Craycroft’s 1944 petition in Macon, Illinois:
I really enjoyed this terrific post from Matt’s Genealogy Blog that “walks” through a set of probate papers, including a petition for administration:
As with anything, sometimes the hardest part is finding these documents. If they survive, they can be buried inside a book called “Administrations,” “Probate Records,” or any of the other myriad titles given by the various states. Also, and this is key: you don’t want the actual “Letters of Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration.” Those documents are the RESULT of the *Petition* that was filed. Those are very often kept and very often bound together, but they will NOT include heirs. Here’s an example:
I find that this is a rarely mentioned document, so be sure to try to search for these where they exist. This is just one more record that can unlock the doors to the secrets of our ancestors.