Friday, April 1, 2011

Probates can help you, so use them!

I've been trying to get more work done on my Parke County, Indiana indexing project over the past couple of weeks, and came across a great example of the random kinds of information you can find in probate records. And not just those probate records of your ancestors, the probate records for your ancestor's extended family, neighbors and associates. I'm talking specifically about the those treasures known as probate packets in Indiana. I've found that not every state has maintained these and while things like probate order books and court order and estate books are pretty commonplace and can definitely help you when you're looking to verify a date or to confirm various time frames especially well, these ledgers do not include the actual sheets of paper that were shuffled around while the case while was open. That's where the packets come in and these little gems are probably my favorite part of working with Indiana genealogy.

I've posted before about the great luck of finding evidence of an ancestor's extended family on things like receipts found in the packets, but this new example that I found was one that you probably wouldn't normally find. In the probate packet for a decedent there is a letter from the administrator asking to resign his position. In doing so, he also requests that the editor of a local newspaper (which is named) stop printing that he is still in the position and taking care of the estate of the decedent. That's the first bit of great evidence found in this one sheet, because it tells the researcher where they can find printed evidence of the death and if there are still copies of that paper, they can get a copy of the ad. That's not all though. At the bottom of the sheet, the administrator also gives his reasoning for resigning his position by stating that his wife was very ill. Now this could have just been an excuse for him not wanting to deal with settling all of the debts of the deceased, but if you are, by chance, tracking the family of the administrator and find that his family has a woman of a certain age living with him in one census year and then that particular tickmark is missing from his household in the next enumeration, you may have just gotten a clue to the approximate date of death for this man's wife.

The problem with this kind of random information however, is that when people are looking through these packets, they are more than likely looking at only those packets for their subject. In the above example though, the information is pertaining to the administrator. If these packets had been indexed already, we could probably assume that they would be indexed only by the decedent and unless you knew previously of a relationship between the two parties you wouldn't think to check that packet if you were tracking the administrator. Fortunately, these packets have not been previously indexed and in the current format for the spreadsheet, we're including the date of the box where the packets are located, the name of the decedent, the approximate dates of the case, the name/s of the administrators/executors, and the names of heirs with their relationship to the decedent when given. Currently, the indexing is going into an Excel spreadsheet so when people go to search the spreadsheet, they will be able to search however they wish so if they are searching for info on a particular person and that person shows up as an administrator or heir, in addition to being the decedent himself at a later date, all of those entries will appear.

So the lucky researcher who is trying to find information about Cornelius Corkins, for instance, will find out a lot more than when he served as administrator for John Wilson, Sr. Maybe I'll get lucky and find some more great info like this as I wade through all of these packets.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your story. How fortunate you are to have probabte packets with such interesting information in them regards Sharn White (Australia)