Tim's Terrific Tips on County Records


Copyright 1996
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There are lots of records available from the county courthouses. Some you need to visit and some you can write for.

I recommend either visiting the county and looking through various indices or getting a published index to the wills of that county (many exist). If you have the index number you should be able to write the county and ask for a price to duplicate the will. You should understand a little about wills and such.

If a person wrote a will, all is in order (relatively speaking). The will was often copied into a standard book in each county when the person died and the will was presented by the witnesses to the will. If the will was in German, it may have been translated then, or later, or recorded in the book in German, or recorded in English, or just not even copied down (I got one of these today from Lancaster County). The copy in the will book usually has a facsimile attempt at the original signature or mark. Some counties will also have the original wills available. You may have to pay more for the extra language copies. I get them.

When a person died without a will, often Letters of Administration were written to someone, usually a relative, to take care of things. You can get a copy of the actual document, sometimes in the will book, sometimes in a separate book, but it will usually provide little more info than the index book, other than the location of the person at the time of death.

Don't forget to get copies of the wills of siblings who often listed their brothers or sisters as recipients or executors. It seems like they often listed people that they thought would be, perhaps, unbiased like friends and sons-in-law.

There are also records of the Orphans Court. This one is kind of strange. Many of the OC records don't deal with orphans, but rather with the selling of property. You'll find a lot of records in these books, but most of it is financial rather than genealogical. There are exceptions, and certainly you should check them. Especially if you know that minors were left behind (it could be just the father dying and the mother unable to support them).

I found that you can write to a county listing just the name and the year of death. They'll usually take the time to look in the basic will index for you and supply a price quote. Don't abuse this privilege. If you really want research rather than just a copy of something you know or suspect exists, don't write, get a researcher.

You also should check the land index and deed books. Check both the grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer) indices. Keep an eye out for the keywords Est (estate), et al (and others - many people), and Release. All of these may refer to the sale of land when a person died and the children or other heirs had to sign off as joint owners of the property. Here is a goldmine of genealogical data ! ! Don't miss it ! You'll find information as good as or better than the wills. Often, the spouses signed for the land as well. And where the person was living was also listed.

Other land records may mention genealogical relationships - "to my children xxx" or "son-in-law xxx". Don't pass up this opportunity.

You'll also want to check out the marriages (late 1800's onward), birth and death records (late 1800's through very early 1900's). Later birth and death records (after 1906) can be found at the State Level. Contact:

Remember, the death certificate of a brother/sister may list the parents, so if your ancestor died before 1906, get a death certificate of a sibling.