Ancestry.com recently released their “U.S. Wills and Probate Records” collection, and it’s free this weekend (until Sep. 7). I’ve been having a good time randomly searching for family names to see what I find. I’ve already saved quite a few records to my Shoebox so that I can look at them more later.
Wills and probate records have some great information in them that can tell you a lot about who your ancestors were. Not only will they sometimes mention family members and relationships, but they’ll tell a lot about what they valued–their possessions, land, livestock, business relationships, etc. All these details can help to paint a picture of your ancestor’s life.
One of the wills I found is for my great-great-great grandfather, William Snow. He was a Mormon pioneer, had six wives, and many children. One of the issues I’ve had with him is trying to determine exactly which children belonged to which wife. This is where his will is a godsend. He leaves each of his four surviving wives, Sally Adams Snow, Jane Mariah Shearer Snow, Ann Rogers Snow, and Roxana Leavitt Snow, the houses they lived in at the time, their household possessions, and some land for each, with detailed descriptions of where that land is. He leaves $100 worth of stock in the “Z. C. Rio-Virgen Manufacturing Company” to “my oldest daughter Abigail Kesler whose mother was Hannah Miles deceased”. All other possessions should be divided up among his wives by the executor, according to the number of children of each, and then he lists all his children:
Their children now living as far as I know are: 1st Sally’s children – Julia Maria; Sarah S; Emma L; Chloe Louisa; Lucy Almira; Margaret and William James; To which I add Sariah H. (daugher of my deceased wife Lydia Leavitt) whom Sally adopted and raised and whom I wish to heir with Sally’s children:-
Jane Maria’s children are William; Mariah; Mary Lorena; and Mason:-
The children of Ann are Willard; Jeter; Celestia; Charles; Frank; Bernalla and Orrin Henry:- Roxana’s children by me are Melissa and John L.
So by no means should you overlook wills and probate records. They can contain valuable information to help you sort out relationships, and clues for other records (like land deeds) to look for.