Probate records are quite common resources for genealogists. I’ve used them many times myself, but I’ve sometimes used them in a way that I don’t think many others do, so I want to share this tip with you.
If I am searching for information on Ancestor X, who hasn’t been kind enough to leave much of a paper trail for me, I will browse through probate records for the time period in which he lived in the area, specifically looking for lists of people who purchased items in estate sales. Most of the time, those buyers were family members or friends, neighbors or business acquaintances of the deceased.
Samuel W. Scott, who I recently blogged about, didn’t leave much of a paper trail, but he settled in Howard County, Missouri about the time that it was organized. He died in 1835, based on his estate administration. If my suspicions are correct, and I think they are based on the poor books he apparently kept (noted in court records), he was a draper by trade – a buyer and seller of fabric.
Part of the information recorded by his administrator included those who owed debts to the estate and to whom the estate was indebted. There are actually about 3 or 4 pages of names reported to the court.
Here is one of the pages. I’m not going to transcribe the whole page, because my focus – if I were hunting for someone other than Samuel – would just be on the individual names.
The pattern of each sentence is the same: Person 1 owes/is owed “X” amount of money.
Note Purple Arrows Next to Each Creditor or Debtor
9 August 1836
The following men are listed on these two pages: David Peeler, J.P, James Wither/Wether, Jonathan Bozarth, David Williams, George Adams, William Johnson, Jonah H. Shepherd, James Averitt, David Peeler again, William B. Means, Henry Saling, James Means, Allen (Hearn?), Garland Collins, Ichabod Moberly, and Theophilus Newbold.
The Justice of the Peace, David Peeler, was likely paid for court-related services. Let’s look at the other men on this list.
Only four men – Jonathan Bozarth, William Johnson, Jonah H. Shepherd and Henry Saling are on both the 1830 and 1840 censuses of Howard County, Missouri. Three more of the men – George Adams, James Means and William B. Means are in Howard County in 1830, but not enumerated there in 1840. The remaining seven men – James Wither/Wether, David Williams, James Averitt, Allen Hearn, Garland Collins, Ichabod Moberly and Theophilus Newbold are not in Howard County in either the 1830 or 1840 census, for whatever reason – underage in 1830, passed through on the way somewhere else, or settled after 1830 and died before 1840.
The 1830 census indicated that there were Averitts and Newbolds living in Washington County, Kentucky, the same place of origin of Samuel W. Scott and his in-laws, the family of Ephraim Thompson. Those aren’t terribly common surnames, so I would wonder if they are related to the men in Howard County by the time of the 1836 inventory.
These are definitely members of Samuel Scott’s FAN club and the probate inventory might be the only evidence that some of these people left in Howard County, Missouri.
Many of the Missouri and Kentucky probate records have been digitized and can be browsed from home on FamilySearch. You might just find a few details to add to the picture of your ancestor’s life.
4 thoughts on “52 Documents in 52 Weeks #16: Probate Sale Inventories”
Linda, I think you’re correct about approaching estate inventories this way. Amazing results could come by utilizing long-used records in a new way.
Nancy, It’s amazing where we can find unique details and clues. I don’t think most people realize that the majority of probate records have not been digitized. It takes a library visit to the microfilm drawers or contact with local court houses to obtain a whole file.
The most amazing inventory I’ve gotten so far is that of John Bailey of Independence Co., AR who died in 1899. His entire probate file, including inventory and related papers, contains 30 pages of pure gold, including signatures of heirs. At $1 per page, it was the best $30 I ever spent.
That is a fabulous find. Except for the packet I purchased on Moses Woosley, most of my finds have been more of the bankrupt kinds!