Icon Probate Records

Probate Records

Introduction

Probate records are all documents that trace the settling of an estate by the executors or administrators of a decedent. The records range from major records such as wills, inventories, and accounts to less well known documents such as renunciations, petitions, and indentures.

Not everyone who died left a will. Even people who owned a great deal of property may have died intestate (i.e., without making a will). Nevertheless, even if someone died without a will, there are other records that can be used to locate the heirs.

When someone died before 1777, the usual procedure was for the next of kin or other persons, such as creditors, concerned with the estate to go to the county court house to initiate the probation of the estate with the Deputy Commissary.  If the decedent left a will, the will would be copied in the county will books as well as the Prerogative Court's will books (except in Anne Arundel County, for which there are only the Pregogative Court records). Theoretically, there should be three sets (two for Anne Arundel County) of each document: the copy made in the Prerogative Court, the copy recorded in the county court, and the original document. Some of the officials involved in this process were the:

For more information on the Prerogative Court, its records, procedures and officers, see Elizabeth Hartsook and Gust Skordas, Land Office and Prerogative Court Records of Colonial Maryland, Volume 415 of the Archives of Maryland Online.  After 1777 the concerned persons went to the county court house and applied for letters of administration. Each county established an orphans court with judges and a register of wills.

Things to remember when searching for probate records:

Accounts of Sale Administration Bonds Administration Accounts
Balance Books or Distributions Estate Dockets Guardian Accounts
Guardian Bonds Indentures Inventories
Maryland Indices Orphans Court Petitions
Renunciations Testamentary Proceedings Wills

Abstracts of Wills from the Prerogative Court by Carson Gibb
   Abstracts of volumes 23 to 31, covering the period from 1743 to 1764.

Huntington Collection of Maryland State Archives Security Microfilm Probate Records
   Prerogative Court Records, 1634-1777 MSA TE1. Online microfilm images of volumes in the record series described below. Period of coverage varies by record series. To find an in-depth explanation of how to use these records, click here.

Dr. Lois Green Carr's Biographical Files of 17th and 18th Century Marylanders, St. Mary's County
  Transcripts of seventeenth and early eighteenth century documents pertaining to residents of St. Mary's County. Organized alphabetically, with documents in chronological order for each individual; can be accessed by surname.

Wills

Wills are the written testamentary wishes of an individual, and show that the testator was alive on the day that the will was signed, and had died before the day on which the will was proven or filed for probate. They may give the names and relationships of heirs, the property or bequests each was to receive, and the name of the person or persons who were to carry out the wishes of the testator. Wills may contain references to the institutions the testator supported, where his or her relatives were buried, or other indications of his or her state of mind. If the will contains name of tracts of land owned by the decedent, the land records for these properties may also contain genealogical information. The Archives contains wills recorded in the Prerogative Court from 1635 to 1777 (Only the microfilm copies now circulate.)

The Archives has Provincial Wills, filed in the Prerogative Court from 1666 to 1777, which may be found in the following record series:

Series Name Paper Microfilm
Wills, Index MSA S539 MSA SM17
Wills, 1635-1777 MSA S538 MSA SM16
Wills, Original Record, 1635-1766 MSA S1276 N/A
Wills, Original, 1666-1777 MSA S540 N/A

The Archives also has County Wills formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Wills.

Inventories

Inventories are lists of personal property owned by the deceased, drawn up by two appraisers, who would list the items and value them in money or in tobacco. Land to which the decedent held title was not inventoried but long-term leaseholds could be included. After about 1712, the inventory would have been signed by two of the "greatest creditors" and two of the adult "nearest of kin."

From 1674 to 1718 the Prerogative Court kept the Inventories in the same series of records as the Accounts.  Provincial inventories for this period may be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper Microfilm
Inventories and Accounts, Index, 1674-1718 MSA S537 MSA SM14
Inventories and Accounts, 1674-1718 MSA S536 MSA SM13
Inventories and Accounts, Original Record, 1709-1715 MSA S1279 N/A

After 1718 there was a separate Prerogative Court series for Inventories. Provincial Inventories may be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper Microfilm
Inventories, Index, 1718-1777 MSA S535 MSA SM12
Inventories, 1718-1777 MSA S534 MSA SM11
Inventories, Original Record, 1719-1758 MSA S1278 N/A

The Archives also has County Inventories formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Inventories.

Inventories are also found in other papers, such as Testamentary Proceedings.

Administration Accounts

Administration Accounts were kept to show debts and other receipts paid to the estate and disbursements made to settle the decedent's debts and probate fees. When all accounts had been settled, the remainder was distributed to the heirs and legatees. In some counties, such as Anne Arundel and Harford, there were separate books of distributions. In other counties, the distribution was recorded right after the final account.  See also Balance Books or Distributions, below.

From 1674 to 1718 the Prerogative Court kept the Accounts in the same series of records as the Inventories. Provincial accounts for this period may be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper Microfilm
Inventories and Accounts, Index, 1674-1718 MSA S537 MSA SM14
Inventories and Accounts, 1674-1718 MSA S536 MSA SM13
Inventories and Accounts, Original Record, 1709-1715 MSA S1279 N/A

After 1718 there was a separate Prerogative Court series for Accounts. Provincial Administration Accounts may be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper Microfilm
Accounts, Index, 1718-1777 MSA S532 MSA SM8
Accounts, 1718-1777 MSA S531 MSA SM7
Accounts, Original, 1720-1763 MSA S1277 N/A

The Archives also has County Administration Accounts formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Accounts.

Testamentary Proceedings

Testamentary Proceedings contain notations on all wills, inventories, and administration accounts that were brought into the Prerogative Court office. From time to time, there were petitions from heirs who felt that they were not receiving their fair share of the estate of the decedent.

The Archives has Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court from 1657 to 1777. The index to these proceedings is Index No. 2 MSA S1394 in the Search Room. Testamentary papers and proceedings can be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper

Microfilm

Testamentary Proceedings, Index, 1657-1777 MSA S530 N/A, see MSA S1394
Testamentary Proceedings, 1657-1777 MSA S529 MSA SM15
Testamentary Proceedings, Original Record, 1746-1750 MSA S1280 N/A

Estate Dockets

Estate Dockets, Registers of Administrations, or Administration Dockets contain information on estates for which letters of administration have been granted. They show the name of the decedent, whether he or she left a will, the name of the executors or administrators, the names of the sureties, and the dates and amounts created by the inventories and sale of effects, as well as the dates on which administration accounts were filed.

The Archives also has County Estate Dockets or Registrations of Administrations formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Estate Papers or Estate Records.

Administration Bonds

Administration Bonds were records of money posted by the accountant(s) (i.e., executor(s) or administrator(s)) to ensure that they would faithfully carry out their duties. Usually two individuals, or sureties, would sign the bond as well. Note the names of the sureties because there is a possibility that one would be from the husband's side of the family, and the other would be from the wife's side of the family. Early bonds often carried additional notes. For instance, in one case a widow stated that she did not want to administer her husband's estate as she was too old and she would prefer that her oldest son administer his father's estate. If a widow did administer her husband's estate, and, if she remarried, she and her new husband would have to post a new bond.

The Archives also has Administration Bonds formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Adminstration Bonds.

Proceedings of the Orphans Court

Orphans Court Proceedings contain a record of the proceedings of the orphans court in each county. In addition to showing when wills and other documents were brought in to be recorded, these proceedings may contain records of orphans being bound out as apprentices, or of guardians being appointed. Sometimes in the period during and after the Revolutionary War, veteran of that conflict would appear in the Orphans Court petitioning for financial aid.

The Archives also has Orphans Court Proceedings formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Orphans Court Proceedings.

Accounts of Sales

Accounts of Sales show what personal property was sold, who bought it, and the price paid. Note that when a great deal of furniture is purchased for a low price, it might have been the widow who was making the purchase.

The Archives also has Accounts of Sale formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Accounts of Sale.

Balance Books or Distributions

Balance Books were kept by the Prerogative Court from 1751 to 1777. They showed the name of the decedent, the accountant (i.e., executor or administrator), the names of the sureties, the balance to be divided up among the heirs, and the names of the heirs. Unfortunately, many times there was a notation that "the names of the heirs are not known to this [Prerogative Court] Office."

Balance books for the provincial period can be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper Microfilm
Balance Book, Index, 1751-1776 MSA S542 MSA SM10
Balance Book, 1751-1776 MSA S533 MSA SM9
Balance Book, Original Record, 1751-1759 MSA S1284 N/A

Distributions for Anne Arundel, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Talbot, Washington, and Worcester Counties are found at the Archives on paper or on microfilm. In other counties, such as Baltimore and Carroll, the distributions are incorporated into the administration accounts. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Balance Book.

Indentures

Indentures were written agreements, and were sometimes found as contracts whereby a parent or grandparent, (or judges of the Orphans Court), would bind a child over to a master who would agree to teach a specific trade within a specified time and often to provide some education (which could include reading, writing, and ciphering to the rule of three). The apprentice would agree to serve the master, to learn the trade, and not to gamble or engage in other activities that would impair his or her usefulness to his master. The indentures of the Baltimore County Orphans Court contain indentures of children from many other counties, and even from outside Maryland.

The Archives also has Indentures formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Indentures.

Petitions

Petitions shed light on the problems encountered by executors and administrators of estates, widows, and orphans. Sometimes the personal estate had to be sold to settle the debts. Sometimes uncooperative heirs made it difficult to render a final account. Many times children who had been bound out as apprentices or their mothers complained that the master was mistreating the child, or not teaching the trade as required by the indenture.

The Archives also has Petitions formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Petitions.  Petitions can also be found among the administrative business recorded in the proceedings of the individual county courts.

Renunciations

Renunciations give the name of the deceased, and were filed when his or her administrator or executor declined to serve in that capacity, due to old age or ill health, or for any other reason. Sometimes all of the heirs signed stating that they all declined to administer the estate, and they would prefer that a specific individual be granted letters of administration.

The Archives also has Renunciations formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Renunciations.

Guardian Bonds

Guardian Bonds were bonds posted by the legally appointed guardian, stating that he or she would render an accurate account of all moneys spent for the education, clothing, and food for a minor heir.

The Archives also has Guardian Bonds formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Guardian Bonds.

Guardian Accounts

Guardian Accounts were the accounts of money spent each year by a guardian. Once accounts were no longer filed, it could mean that the child had attained his or her majority or perhaps that the child had died.

The Archives also has Guardian Accounts formerly deposited at county court houses. Search the Guide to Government Records for series name Guardian Accounts.

Maryland Indices

The references listed below are to card catalogue indexes available only in the Archives' searchroom. Internet access to indices are noted.

Related Court Records

Chancery Records

Many times disputes over estates and inheritance would arise. When this happened families took their disputes to Court. Prior to 1854 the petitions of the complainants, the responses of the defendants and the depositions of friends, neighbors and other relatives would be filed with the Court of Chancery, either in Chancery Papers or in large volumes of the Chancery Record. Chancery cases may be found in the following series:

Record Series Paper Microfilm
Docket, 1784-1851 MSA S527 N/A
Chancery Papers, Index, 1785-1851 MSA S516 N/A
Chancery Papers, 1713-1851 MSA S512 MSA SM200
Chancery Papers, Exhibits, 1718-1856 MSA S528 MSA SM79
Chancery Record, Index, 1668-1797 MSA S518 N/A
Chancery Record, 1668-1852 MSA S517 MSA SM1

Baltimore County and Baltimore City had their own chancery records:

In 1854 the Court of Chancery was abolished. Disputes over inheritance would be tried in the county courts.  Look for the following records under the series names Equity Docket, Equity Docket, Index, and Equity Papers.

Insolvency Records

From time to time some people had to file for the benefit of an Act for Insolvent Debtors. These records can be found in:

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