Sunday, February 14, 2010

Research Tip: Alternative To Death Records

If you have Indiana ancestors, chances are you have run into the research barrier of 1882--the year that the state first required counties to record births and deaths. For those that died before 1882, you may think that you have few resources, save for finding their obituary or tombstone--a task that is even more daunting when you see how many tombstones are illegible or in pieces, if the cemetery hasn't disappeared altogether. Probate records are a great--underutilized--source for death information.

The above (from the Indiana Genealogical Society's Records Preservation Project for Hendricks County), is an example of the kind of genealogy gems that you can unearth in probate records. This affidavit, stating that they died on July 23, 1857, is part of the process of the probate court appointing an administrator for the estate of the deceased.

Once appointed, the administrator would pay any bills owed by the estate and then submit the receipts to the court. The bills for the funeral and burial are often among those receipts. In the example below, the receipt for the tombstone gave not only the dimensions and the name and 1858 date of death to be inscribed, but even the sad verse that was to accompany it:

Even people who wrote wills before they died could have a probate record--in those instances, the court would recognize their executor instead of an administrator. So make sure you keep this resource in your research toolbox!

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