From the Ancestry
A $31.44 Inheritance
Probate papers of ancestors are a record utilized by most genealogists. The records of how an ancestor's property was allocated after their death can provide a significant amount of family information, particularly in terms of relationships, married names for women, family financial status, and residences of heirs. These records should not only be accessed for direct line ancestors. Estate settlements of other extended family members may also provide significant clues.
The 1950s estate settlement of Anna Haase is a case in point. Miss Haase died in 1955 leaving no descendants and enough money to cause her estate to go through the process of probate. Anna was the youngest of 6 children, nearly twenty years younger than her older sister, and had survived all her siblings and several of her nieces and nephews. The estate record listed over fifty of Anna's heirs. My own grandmother even received a whopping $31.44 from the estate.
Readers unfamiliar with probate records may wish to refer to two earlier "Beyond the Index" Columns:
Whose Records Do I Look For?
The record discussed in this column was for a sister of my great-great-grandmother. The estate records of ancestral cousins are also worth considering if they fall into the same categories as listed previously. My same Grandmother also received two small inheritances from first cousins who not only left no descendants but were also only children. Estates of this kind are particularly valuable as the heirs typically begin with the first cousins of the deceased and may extend even further depending upon the family structure. You may be surprised at what relatives come out of the woodwork.
How to Find These Records?
Grandma and her siblings each received 1/210th of the estate of Anna Haase. While the portion is small, the calculation is not as complicated as it may sound.
Grandma's share of the Anna Haase estate was determined in the following manner:
Are Some People Left Out?
The settlement of the estate only requires that the heirs be determined at the time the estate is settled. It is not necessary to document every descendant or relative who ever lived or even every family member who was living at the time the estate was settled.
In our example case, Anna's sister Frances Trautvetter had own daughter who died as a toddler in the 1880s. Since Frances' daughter left no heirs of her own, this daughter is not mentioned in the estate records. George Trautvetter's son who died in his mid-30s is not mentioned either. While he died at the age of 36, he left no children or spouse upon his death. In some cases these individuals may be mentioned in an estate for completeness, but there usually is no reason that these individuals have to be listed. Children who died as infants will likely not be mentioned at all. Remember, the court is concerned with establishing a list of heirs, not a list of every relative who ever lived.
Some Additional Warnings
Care must be taken with other heirs as well. In a deceased heir left descendants, that group of heirs should be listed in the records. It may not be noted in the records that that particular group of heirs shared only one parent.
Look through your family information. Is there a relative who died without descendants? If so, the answers to some of your genealogical questions may be lurking in their probate file.
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) www.fgs.org. He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
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by the author on his website with permission