Records created during the administration of an estate - generally called "probate records" - are extremely useful for genealogical research. Administering an estate requires the identification of all heirs. Therefore the administration provides details of family relationships, one of the main goals of genealogical research.
As genealogists, we love the last wills and testaments of our ancestors. When one of our ancestors wrote a will, he would usually provide quite a bit of information about his property and his family, as he left legacies to "my daughter Sally, wife of Samuel Johnson," and "my eldest son Robert" for example.
An estate where a will was created is called testate.
However, many people did not write a will. These estates, where no will was created, are called intestate. A great majority of the people of the past died intestate, for many reasons.
For one, people who died unexpectedly did not often have time to write a will. This includes those who became fatally ill and did not have the strength to do so.
Those with little personal or real property also often neglected to write a will. For poorer people, taking the time to write a will may simply have seemed like a waste of time.
Often genealogy researchers are disappointed when they discover that their ancestor did not leave a will. But the estate administration process created several other records that were just as important, that provide even more detail about our ancestors than did a will.
The next few articles will discuss these probate records: