I have posted before about the need to search every step in the probate process. We shouldn’t be in the habit of only reviewing the will and the inventory.

Steps in the Probate Process

One of the first steps in the probate process is that someone petitions the court for the authority to probate the estate.

How this process unfolds depends upon whether the deceased had a will (called “testate”) or not (called “intestate).

The petitioner will receive 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.

They can be also found bound together in a single book.

We need to try to find these records–these petitions for letters. Their value is that they *sometimes name the existing heirs at law of the deceased individual.*

Remember: most people did not create a will. And when they did, they not have to name all of their heirs.

Earlier records of this sort were often written into the court record books. Later in time, we start to see the use of pre-printed forms.

Shown below are several examples of why this record can benefit our research.

Leanna Peaker

My often-married cousin Leanna Peaker’s petition in Kent County, Maryland named all her deceased husband’s siblings.

It stated his sister’s married names and also the cities where they lived:



Nellie Kneesi

Nellie Kneesi’s 1932 petition in Montgomery County, Maryland did the same:



Cora Craycroft

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:

Finding Petitions

As with anything, sometimes the hardest part is finding these documents. If they survive, they can be buried inside books called “Administrations,” “Probate Records,” or any of the other myriad titles given by the various states.

But this is a key point: 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 often kept and bound together, but that document will NOT include heirs.

Here’s an example of the actual Letters:

Actual Letters Testament

Actual Letters Testament

This is just one more  record that can unlock the doors to the secrets of our ancestors.

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