Friday, July 23, 2010

Indiana Probate Packets

Are you researching an Indiana ancestor who died prior to civil death registration? Can't find his death date? Or researching an ancestor who died in IN after registration but you want more information? Not sure where to look? You may be in luck thanks to an often overlooked resource for Indiana-the probate packets.

On my most recent trip to Parke County, IN I was working on my NGS HSC lesson on probate records. The lesson called for me to do an inventory of the probate holdings available in the county so I was basically just snooping around the back room of the Clerk's Office. While they do have the standard ledgers that you see just about everywhere else, they also have a huge set of metal drawers that look like they're built into the wall. The only identifying info on the front of the drawers are little pieces of paper with typed years on them. So for this trip, I decided to find out what these drawers had inside. Boy was I surprised. Inside, were the complete probate files, often called case files in other states, with loose pages from the probate proceedings. Included in these folded up packets were things like the petitions for administration, inventories, recipts, and any other documents that had been presented to the court pertaining to an individual's probate case. Yes, several of these items were noted in the ledger books so you could find out when someone died from those as well, but with these packets, you're not just reading a notation in a ledger than an inventory was presented, you're looking at the inventory itself. More importantly, you're seeing the widow's petition for the release of the estate which can tell you any number of things such as names of children and whether she could write. You can also find out a great deal about extended family groups, such as the decedent's brothers which can help reconstruct another generational family group.

In one of the probate packets for a family member, I found that the widow did not present her own petition for the estate. Instead, her husband's brother did it for her and prior to this time, I had not been able to connect the decedent with anyone else in the county. Also, in the same drawer, right in front of that probate packet was another, thicker probate packet for someone else with the same surname. So I opened it up and found that this was another relation to my ancestor (I'm not entirely sure but I think it may be another brother) and that my ancestor was actually administering that estate when he died and included in that relation's packet was a receipt from my ancestor's widow showing that the new administrator had paid her for her husband's share of the estate to which he had been working to administer when he died. It was an unbelievable find and one that I wouldn't have been able to make so quickly without those packets. It's one thing to see the same surnames in a ledger book, but it takes quite a bit of work to go through and track all of those people and try to bring out the relationships between them without something like these packets with their personal letters spelling out relationships and things like receipts to tell you that yes, these people were related and had dealings with each other.

As stated initially, these probate packets are held by the county Clerk's Office. While the order books and will books and books of the Common Pleas Courts have been filmed by the FHL, these packets have largely been ignored, probably due to the fact that seeing the proceedings in the order books tend to answer the main question people have for these pre-registration deaths: when did so-and-so die? However, when you want to know more about the person than just when did they die, like what was their widow's name, or who administered the estate, or who were the children, the packets are invaluable. The can even tell you things you hadn't thought of yet like the names of two of your ancestor's brothers and those are all things that can seriously open up your research leading to older generations, maternal lines, and filling in previously unknown children. These packets should not be ignored just because you think you've answered the main when did he die question and that is why they are starting to come to the attention of others, such as the Indiana Genealogical Society, who are beginning the long process of indexing and digitizing these packets to both get them out there for researchers to discover and use and to preserve them for the future. I'm working on starting at least an indexing project for the Parke County packets right now so hopefully they'll start to become available in the near future as well.

If you've got Indiana ancestors, get out there and go through those packets! You never know what secrets they'll have inside.

Few words about KY research

When I went to Kentucky the week before last for a girls' weekend with some friends from college, I made sure to leave a couple days for some on-site research. I've got KY roots on both my Mom's and my Dad's side, but my main target was Gilkison research in Fleming County and Bath County.

While I had used microfilm of KY records fairly frequently before, ordered through the Family History Center, this was my first time working there in person so I wanted to be sure I knew where I was going and what I was going to find. The one thing that I realized is that where Kentucky is concerned, the county courthouse shouldn't necessarily be your first stop. The Kentucky Archives in Frankfort has tax lists, will books, and marriage information, plus other information sent to them from the courthouses from all of the counties so pretty much, if you hit the Archives first, you'll know whether the courthouse may have more information for you. In my case, it told me right off the bat that I wasn't going to find what I was looking for where I was planning to look.

My target was John Gilkison who married Margaret Manley in 1819 in Fleming County. I was hoping to find more information about him in Fleming County, especially when I discovered the full run of tax lists for the county available at the Archives. As it turned out, he was never taxed there and by 1820 he was enumerated in another county, 1830 yet another, and by 1840 he was in Indiana. And other than his marriage return, there is absolutely no evidence that he was even in Fleming County beyond his marriage and the tax returns helped prove that. What the tax returns did show me were other Gilkerson families there at the same time John was floating around Kentucky providing possible relations to John, including a William Gilkerson who was of the appropriate age to have been a generation older than John (father, uncle, etc.). I was able to track William through about 50 years of tax lists and establish a death range, attach him to a confirmed son and a couple potential others, find him in a deed index, and even find his marriage return from 1799. If I had had more time, I could have searched the tax lists for the surrounding counties to see if and how John was enumerated but that's going to have to wait for another time.

So my biggest tip on Kentucky research is don't jump straight to the courthouses without checking if the KY Archives might have what you need as well. If I had known how complete those tax lists ran, I would just have skipped the courthouse visits on the second day and returned to the Archives to search those surrounding counties for John.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First up, Illinois land grant records at NARA Chicago

Ok, so yet another of my NGS Home Study Course assignments dealt with Land Grant records. Fortunately, right now I'm living in the greater Chicago Metro Area and can take advantage of the holdings of the National Archives, Great Lakes Region located on the south side of the city.

The assignment is to first determine whether you live in a federal land state or a state land state. The state land states are most easily remembered as those states formed from the thirteen original colonies, states formed by land from these states, and lands used as bounty land from them; Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Hawaii make up these states which are also known as non-public states, of which there are twenty. Ohio also had land which falls into this territory because a good portion of it was used as a military district for veterans.

The remaining thirty states are federal land states because the land they cover belonged to the government after the Revolutionary War. Illinois is one of these states and it is the records of the various Illinois land offices which I was to focus on for the assignment.

The main purpose of the assignment was to do a survey of the records held by the repository you visited. For the sake of time when considering the massive holdings of the National Archives, I was to look at the state I live in and report on what records are available for that state alone. Below is the list that I compiled.


-It should be mentioned that NARA Great Lakes-Chicago location has more than just IL land grant records. Indiana was also included in their catalog and it's possible that their holdings may include Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio as well, though there are two NARA Great Lakes locations and the other is in Dayton, Ohio. For specific information on which land grant records are held at which location you can contact the Archives at or 773-948-9001

-NARA only has land grant records for federal land states. For grants outside these states, where the grants are often known as patents, check the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office, website at where you can search the patents online

-The finding aid for land records at NARA Chicago included Illinois land office records which were only available at the Washington D.C. location. For a complete catalog of the land records of the various IL land offices, these records should be consulted.

Illinois Land Grant records available at NARA Great Lakes Region, Chicago, IL**

Chicago Land District (1835-1855)
Abstracts of Cash Entries
Abstracts of Military Bounty Land Warrant Locations
Galena Land District (1835-1840)/Dixon Land District (1840-1855)
Registers of Cash Certificates
Edwardsville Land District (1816-1855)
Register of Final Credit Certificates
Registers of Cash Certificates
Declarations of Consent under the Relief Act of 2 March 1821
Relinquishments under the Relief Acts of 2 March 1821, 18 May 1824, 4 May
1826, and 21 March 1828
Kaskaskia Land District (1809-1855)
Applications to purchase
Register of Credit Certificates
Declarations of Consent under the Relief Act of 2 March 1821
Relinquishments under the Relief Act of 2 March 1821
Relinquishments under the Relief Acts of 18 May 1824, 4 May 1826, and 21 March 1828
Register of Cash Certificates
Receivers Cash Account Book
Palestine Land District (1821-1855)
Registers of Cash Certificates
Vandalia Land District (1821-1855)
Registers of Cash Certificates
Quincy Land District (1831-1855)
Registers of Cash Certificates
Danville Land District (1831-1856)
Registers of Cash Certificates
Shawneetown Land District (1814-1855)
Registers of Cash Certificates
Springfield Land Office (1823-1876)
Registers of Cash Certificates

(I have a Word document/pdf file of the above list also. If anyone would like a copy, just drop me an email)

I didn't forget to blog, I swear!! :)

Hey all, I just wanted to drop a quick note to let you know that I haven't forgotten about the blog. I was out of town all last week in Kentucky on a research trip/get-together-with-friends things. This was my first on-site KY research trip so I have a few things to discuss with that but I need some time to go over my notes. Also, sandwiched inbetween my Parke County trip a couple weeks ago and the KY trip I just got back from, I managed to head down to NARA-Great Lakes Region in Chicago for a look at their Illinois land grant holdings and I want to go over that information as well. Plus, I'm still working on typing up all the data for the NGS HSC lessons that I've gotten this month. So I'm swamped now. But I'll also be working on starting to get some of it up here too so keep watching for it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Parke County Trip, Part 2-The Good News

So I spent my first post on my trip last week (to Parke County, IN) basically talking about the frustrations I found there, and there were a few. This time I can talk about the great stuff I found, primarily in the back room of the Clerk's Office. Besides getting two assignments for the NGS Home Study Course finished while I was working in the Courthouse, I was also able to check out a couple of things for my own personal research. What I found were three complete probate packets. Some areas no longer keep these but Parke County has them going back to about 1833. Two of the ones that I found were for my direct ancestors, William Williamson and Emsley McMasters.

Emsley's packet was pretty standard: it had a page where the two administrators/appraisers signed on, an inventory of his items and their value to make sure that his estate was worth less than $500 (it ended up just under the cut at $488), and because of this, it also had a petition from his wife asking the court to release the estate, including both real and personal property to her. It includes the land description at the bottom which is great because now I can try to match it up to the land description in an entry for Emsley in the 1867 deed book and then try to find it on a map. So that's a little project I can hold on to for next time.

William's packet though, was a little different. For starters, I didn't have an exact date of death for William though I knew that he died probably between 1856 and 1860 so I started with the probate order books first. I found success there when I saw that his estate appointed administrators on May 1, 1858. In the same book, just before William's entry though, were several entries next to the name John Williamson. I had no idea who this person was, he's not one of the other Williamson's living in the county in the 1850 census, so I started looking at the pages with John's estate happenings. As it turned out, a William Williamson was appointed administrator of John Williamson's estate in March 1858 but died the next month, the same as the man I think is my William Williamson. So I pull both John and William's probate packets. John's is first and inside are tons of receipts and IOU's that John incurred prior to his death. Apparently he had tons of debts around town and couldn't pay them all. One of the receipts was this one

This receipt was for Susan Williamson, who was my William's wife which means this was the proof I needed to show that my William and the William that was administrator for John Williamson's estate were the same. It also establishes a relationship between John and William which gets a little more complex once I looked inside William's probate packet. In that one, the petition for the estate was not done by William's widow, Susan, as it was in Emsley's case, but instead it was done by a Conrad Williamson as representative, or "next friend", of Susan. This was a name I recognized from the 1850 census because he and his family lived in the same county and he himself was only a couple years older than William. In this petition he begins by saying he is in fact, "brother of William Williamson". So with these two packets I've now got a relationship between three men, two of whom are confirmed brothers with the third suspected to be either another brother or perhaps a cousin.

For now, I'm thinking John is a brother or cousin, someone of the same generation as William or Conrad, rather than their father because he seems to have been moving around more than someone who was probably in their 70s would have done. He has still not been found anywhere in the 1850 census and he didn't appear as having any land in the deed indexes and books either. His packet didn't have a petition for estate by a widow and he wasn't listed as having any heirs or children either. Keeping in mind his IOUs and receipts that the later administrator (who I'm also tracking to see if there is a relationship there) had to pay that doesn't generally fit the behavior of an elderly man either. But there is still a lot to be done with these two packets.

From two probates, look how much info I've gotten! It was great! I've since found out a little about Conrad too which is nice. He may have lived long enough to have a death certificate in the county which would be wonderful if it turns out that the informant (whether it's a widow or one of his kids) knew the names of his parents, specifically his father. So that's what I'm looking for now. And of course, I'm still on the lookout for John to see if I can get a more concrete hold on how he fit into the family.