More than 100 million people are mentioned in Ancestry’s newest database of U.S. wills and probate records, an exclusive collection spanning over 300 years. To celebrate, Ancestry is offering free access through September 7.
This morning, Ancestry launched an enormous–and enormously significant–new online records collection. According to its press release, “More than 170 million pages from the largest collection of wills and probate records in the United States is now available online exclusively on Ancestry. With searchable records included from all 50 states spread over 337 years (1668-2005), this unprecedented collection launches a new category of records for family history research never before available online at this scale the United States.”
Wills and estate records are one of those record types that have been less-accessible online. First, the records themselves are not easy to digitize or even index. They are often thick files, packed with various kinds of documents that may be fragile and of varying sizes. Several people may be mentioned throughout the file, but finding and picking out their names to put in an index is time-consuming.
Furthermore, the U.S. has no central will or probate registry. This happens on a county level, generally. Compiling a centralized database from all those county offices or archives is a huge undertaking.
According to the Ancestry release, “Ancestry spent more than two years bringing this collection online, working with hundreds of different archives from individual state and local courts across the country and making a $10M investment to license and digitize the records.”
Better yet, “the documents cover well over 100 million people, including the deceased as well as their family, friends and others involved in the probate process. Ancestry expects to continue to grow the collection, with additional records available over the next several years.”
Todd Godfrey, VP of Global Content at Ancestry, loves the fact that wills and probate records can reveal not just names, dates and family relationships, but stories. “Wills can offer an incredible view into the lives of your ancestors…providing insight into their personality, character, achievements, relationships, and more,” said Godfrey. “Reading these records you will find a deeper level of understanding about who your ancestors were, who they cared about, what they treasured, and how they lived.”
Learn more about this collection in Finding Your Family in Wills and Probate Records (Ancestry’s new in-depth guide) or click here to search the collection. Great news for those without Ancestry subscriptions: The U.S. Wills and Probates collection is free to access on Ancestry, along with all U.S. birth, marriage and death records, through September 7 (10pm MT).
Please share the great news! Click on your preferred social media channel on this page or copy the link into an email and send it out to your family and friends!
Resources: More Great U.S. Records Online!
U.S. State Census Records: Capture Your Family History Between Federal Censuses
NEW! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index
4 Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy
If you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you know how brilliantly co-author Annie Barrows stitched together letters, conversations and history in her fictional love story and account of the Nazi-occupied island of Guernsey during World War II. I love that book. So I was super excited to hear her talking on The Diane Rehm Show recently about her new book, The Truth According to Us: A Novel.
Of course, Annie read from the opening of her book, which made me put it at the top of my reading list. Then she talked about how history can be so different, depending on who is telling the story and from what perspective. I loved her take on small-town history and family history: how it’s remembered so deeply and passionately by its own, and often so mis-remembered or mis-represented by outsiders.
Here’s the book summary from Amazon:
“In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.
At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.”
Annie did talk about the Guernsey book, too. I hadn’t realized her aunt wrote the original manuscript, then became too ill to do the rewrites her publisher wanted. So Annie took on the task. As the author of the acclaimed Ivy and Bean children’s series, clearly she was up to the task. But she didn’t dream it would become an international best-seller!
That’s my latest recommendation as the “curator” of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We recommend mainstream fiction and nonfiction titles that resonate with people who love family history. Up soon on the Genealogy Gems Book Club schedule: our interview with author Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) (we’ll put the link up on the Book Club page when it’s ready). We also recently published this new companion list of how-to genealogy books we love.
This decorative marriage certificate and the Births page below come from a Sudweeks family Bible I helped return to the Sudweeks family.
The Daughters of the American Revolution Library (DAR) has a free online collection of searchable records. Its Genealogical Research System allows anyone to search databases of ancestors, descendants, members, its Genealogical Research Committee reports and more. Now it’s added another databases: Bible records.
“DAR collections contain thousands of Bible records from the Family Register sections and other pages,” states a news release from Eric Grundset, DAR Library Director. A new database contains “approximately 30,000 Bible records taken from our Genealogical Records Committee Reports. This is an ongoing project as member volunteers review the GRC database to post more materials found in those nearly 20,000 volumes. As time progresses, we will add other Bible listings from other sources in our collections.
“At the present time, if someone wishes to order copies of a specific Bible record, they will need to contact the DAR Library’s Search Services for copies. We are developing the steps for the ordering of pdfs of all of the DAR Bible records for online ordering in the near future. Documentation that is less than 100 years old is restricted for privacy reasons.”
Family Bibles in years past served as a family’s private vital records registry, where the names, births, marriages and deaths of loved ones were inscribed. A Bible record may be the only place to find some of those, especially for the distant past and for children who died young. But it’s also the most intimate kind of vital record to find, a family’s log of its own kin.
Grundset reminds us that “DAR Collections are not limited to the period of the American Revolution or to the families of DAR members.”
You may recall from our recent DNA discussion on the Genealogy Gems podcast (Episode 168) that Ancestry.com recently discontinued their mtDNA and YDNA tests (the two that trace our direct maternal and direct paternal lines) to focus on autosomal DNA (which delivers information about both your mother’s and your father’s side of your ancestral tree).
Well, recently I attended an all-day meeting hosted by Ancestry.com: a summit to talk about current trends and accomplishments at Ancestry DNA, and ideas about the future of DNA testing at Ancestry.com.
The meeting included a diverse group of Ancestry representatives, from CEO Tim Sullivan to members of the marketing, scientific, communications, and even computer science departments, as well as some of the top voices in genetic genealogy. It was an open and lively discussion, and I walked away with a few gems I want to share with you today.
More Powerful DNA Hints Coming
In AncestryDNA, the ‘shaky leaf” hints are meant to help you find a common ancestor between you and your DNA matches. The computer code behind the old hints was not very efficient. Lazy, in fact. It started at the bottom of your tree—and the bottom of your match’s tree—and slapped on a shaky leaf at the first sign of a shared common ancestor.
While this method worked for a large number of cases, it was leaving a lot of stones unturned. But the IT guys at Ancestry have beefed up the computer power, allowing them to cover a much greater distance through our trees and the trees of our matches before making a judgment about the best place to assign that shaky leaf.
The result? Better hints about how you and your match COULD be related. Remember, the leaf is still just a SUGGESTION on how you and your match might be related. It is not a crystal ball.
Did You Know?
- Ancestry DOES store your DNA samples in a secure location.
- Ancestry spent months designing their own DNA collection kit.
- Ancestry was able to attract some of the brightest scientists in the field of population genetics because of YOU. You with your documented pedigree charts and your willingness to help move this science of discovering our ancestors forward.
There is no question that the genetic genealogy industry is rapidly advancing, and our discussion with Ancestry certainly didn’t disappoint. While I will be sharing with you in future posts about some of the exciting changes, I do want you to be ready for one that buy anxiety medication online uk will be coming online fairly soon.
It has to do with your matches. If you have been tested by AncestryDNA, you may have been initially excited, then nearly immediately overwhelmed, by the number of individuals listed in your match page, all claiming to have some kind of connection to you and your family tree.
All three major genetic genealogy testing companies (AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) are using basically the same laboratory methods to glean information from your DNA. What differs is how they use that data to draw conclusions about your ethnic heritage and about your relationships to other individuals. As it turns out, AncestryDNA has been reporting far more individuals as your relatives than it should have.
You can think of it like this: You have sent out tickets, in the form of your genetic code, to an exclusive party where you (of course!) are the star. However, you have lost the guest list and you are counting on the testing company to check the ticket of each guest before they enter your party to be sure they were really invited.
AncestryDNA was relatively new in the role of party bouncer, and in the interest of not turning away any VIP guests, they initially allowed guests into your party who had (gasp!) forged tickets!! But as AncestryDNA admits more guests, the experience it’s gained in party monitoring is starting to show.
You see, each of the forged tickets has some unique qualities that have started to send up red flags to the team of scientists at AncestryDNA. They are now in the process of carefully documenting what each forged ticket looks like and tossing those unwanted guests out on their ear.
The short of it: in the near future your match list at Ancestry will be much shorter. Which is good news to you, as it means only those invited genetic cousins will be around eating hors d’ oeuvres and ready to talk about your shared common ancestry.
Each testing company has its strengths and weaknesses. It was good to have a bit of insight into this one company and come to a greater understanding about why it is they do what they do. It is a great time to be in this young genetic genealogy industry, with so much room to grow and change. I will let you know when I find the next genetic gem.
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Have you ever had a case of a missing birth record, in a time and place where you know there should be one? It’s so frustrating! Recently Michelle shared her missing birth record dilemma on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page:
“I am having a problem with my grandfather’s birth certificate. Everyone in the family says he was born in Tupelo, MS yet when I requested his BC they did not locate it. I am unsure where to even start looking. I have not been able to locate them on the 1930 Census either. He was born in 1921. Any suggestions on how I can narrow my search for his birth certificate would be helpful.”
Without knowing the specifics of her family, and without knowing the Tupelo area or Mississippi records well, it’s hard to give the perfect answer. But here are some ideas worth considering:
- In that time and place, many births were still home births with midwives in attendance. By this date, midwives were required to record the birth record but it’s possible this one was missed or filed later (so it might not show up in order, if the record is chronological by date of filing).
- If your grandfather had any known African-American ancestry at all, his birth might be recorded in a separate place (“colored register”).
- It’s a long shot for someone born this late in time, but ask whether his birth appears in the delayed birth records collection. (I’m not sure, for this locale, whether that was kept at the county level or not.) Click here to hear a free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast episode on birth records and delayed birth records.
- I would also look to neighboring counties and towns. It’s possible he was born outside of Tupelo and the family just remembers that as being the nearest city.
- If you can’t find the family in the 1930 census, that’s a red flag that perhaps they didn’t live there at the time. (Browse the census pages to be sure, instead of just relying on the index to search the name.)
- Finally, I would definitely call the local genealogical society and ask their volunteers this question! They may know of additional records that exist, or a reason he might not be there.
Learn more about family history sleuthing strategies like these in the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, which takes listeners step-by-step into the world of genealogy research. It’s great for a “true” beginner and for anyone who could use a refresher on any or all of the topics we cover.