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.
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’s 1932 petition in Montgomery County, Maryland 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 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:
This is just one more record that can unlock the doors to the secrets of our ancestors.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.