Ancestry Publishes HUGE Collection of U.S. Wills and Probate Records

US Wills and Probate AncestryMore 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).

share celebrate balloonsPlease 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 

Be a Hero! 4 Ways to Rescue Military Memories and Artifacts

Remembering the stories of our veterans–both the living and the dead–is an important way we can all honor their service and sacrifices. Here we offer four ways to do that.

heroic rescue artifactsIn our countdown to Veterans Day, we are honoring veterans and recognizing efforts of those who help document their lives and legacies. How might YOU put yourself in the right place at the right time to preserve a veteran’s story?

  1. Collect and preserve the stories of living veterans. Use a tool like the free StoryCorp app to record a veteran’s story. Invite a story-preservation organization like  Witness to War to a veterans’ reunion near you, or upload combat-related photos to their site.
  2. Collect “orphaned heirlooms” you may come across and return them to their families or to a museum or archive where others can appreciate them. For example, a garbage collector rescued more than 5000 WWI artifacts from the trash bins he collected. Another rescuer spent years tracking down the heir of heirlooms found in an attic. A third buy medicine online pakistan found a lost dog tag and returned to it the family.
  3. Take images of veterans’ grave markers and upload them to sites like Find a Grave or Billion Graves. Be sure to include in your photo(s) clear images of military markers. This makes it easier for descendants to find and honor their own. For example, last summer, FGS and BillionGraves invited the public to post War of 1812 grave markers on BillionGraves. Why not keep up that effort?
  4. Document and display the stories of veterans in your family or community. Lisa created a beautiful display

Here at Genealogy Gems, we {heart} veterans and honor their service. Veterans Day in the U.S. is coming up. How can you honor the veterans in your family or community? We’d love to hear about your heroic experiences doing that! Tell us about it on our Facebook page with the hashtag #CountdownToVeteransDay or contact us with your story. How many days until Veterans Day?

Write Your Life Story: Good for Your Health?

Did you know that writing–and then re-writing–our personal stories can be good for our health? And even better for our future, 

Preserving Old Letters Archive Lady

 

Courtesy Houston County, TN. Archives.especially if we are struggling to define that future optimistically. 

So says a recent New York Times blog post. “We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves,” writes Tara Parker-Pope.

“But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.”

She’s not talking about writing childhood memories or ancestral anecdotes. In several studies, people who were struggling in an area were asked to write about it. Then they were presented with optimistic scenarios about how others had overcome difficulties. Those who rewrote their narratives were able to grab onto some of that optimism. They actually changed the way they thought of their “problem,” whatever it was. And long-term results in some studies showed that these people DID in fact improve.

We often see celebrities on Who Do You Think You Are? talk about how their ancestors’ lives inspire them or teach them new ways of understanding their own lives. Many who write their own family histories say the same thing. As we wrestle with memories or facts and how to present them in writing, we also interpret the past in new ways and, often, this new insight brings hope for a better future.

Genealogy Gems Podcast and Family HistoryOne more GREAT reason to write your life story and family history, don’t you think? Thanks to my brother Chris McClellan for sharing this blog post with me.

Listen as Lisa and I discuss different styles for writing about your family history in the FREE Genealogy Gems podcast episode 176. Or get inspired by the family history-themed books we love and share on our Genealogy Gems Book Club page. Click here for great suggestions on what to read!

 

Are You Ready for a Genealogy Travel Adventure?

If you would love to take a genealogy travel adventure to your ancestral homeland, consider who might help you make it happen. Get inspired and ready with these tips!

genealogy travel adventure

Map: Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

Recently Joyce, a Genealogy Gems Premium member, wrote in to thank me for the new Premium video, Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Then she asked a great question:

“What I would really like to know is if you have any travel agent/agency that is great for Europe travel to do my own ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ Any help or direction you can give would be much appreciated.”

I have just the thing for Joyce’s travel question! In the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 115, I interviewed Kathy Wurth, who specializes in family history tours of Europe. (You will find her contact information here on the show notes page for the episode.) Even if she doesn’t go to the locations you want to visit, I’m sure that she could help match you up with a travel consultant who does. Tell her “hi” for me!

Before you set off on your own genealogy travel adventure, get inspired and get ready! Here are some great resources for doing just that:

Get inspired! Listen to or read about these genealogists’ travel adventures to ancestral homelands that I’ve covered on Genealogy Gems in the past:

She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. An award-winning journalist tells the story of her discovery of her mother’s tragic childhood in South Africa. This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done. Listen to an excerpt of our interview with Emma Brockes on the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 174 and the full-length interview in Premium episode 118.

Three Slovak Women, Second Edition by Lisa Alzo. A popular genealogy expert’s story of three generations of Slovak women in the steel-producing town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and the love and sense of family binding them together. Click here to hear Lisa in the free Family History Made Easy podcast talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned along the way, including in her travels in Eastern Europe.

Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters  by Jennifer Wilson. In this book, Jennifer takes us on a once-in-a-lifetime genealogical journey. She walked in her ancestors’ shoes and lived among their descendants. I profiled this book in Episode 129 of the Genealogy Gems podcast and was so inspired by the story that she created this YouTube video on the book.

Get ready! Here are some free travel tips for genealogists from our friends over at Family Tree Magazine:

More Resources from Genealogy Gems on Family History Travel Adventures:

Family History Travel with a Non-Genealogist Companion: Tips and Laughs on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 124 (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required to access; click here to learn more)

Look for Genealogy Records in a State Capital When You’re Traveling There

Road Trip, Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum

If you want to take a genealogy travel adventure–or invite someone else to–please share this article with them! Just email a link or It’s easy, it’s free–and maybe you’ll pick up a travel companion! Happy travels!

 

Easy Project to Write Your Family History: Publish a Q&A

This 3-step project will help you capture a relative’s life story in plenty of time for the holidays!

Reconstructing the life stories of our ancestors can sometimes feel like squeezing water from a stone. By comparison, gathering the life stories of the living can be like turning on a tap. All you have to do is direct and catch the flow.

Turn your family history interviews into a beautiful book–just in time for holiday sharing–with this three-step project. Simplify it or doll it up, depending on your time, talents and what you have to work with. Just do it! Write your family history! Here’s the basic outline:

1. Record an interview. Invite a relative to chat with you about his or her life stories. Decide together what the relative WANTS to talk about: childhood memories? Stories about a certain loved one or a particular time period? A little of everything? Consider using a list of life story questions or memory prompts like those you can find in my book, My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.

Before you begin, be clear that your goal is to write these stories up for the family. Meet in person, over the phone or by Skype (click here to learn how to record a Skype conversation). With permission, record the conversation. Ask plenty of follow-up questions, but otherwise keep your own comments to a minimum. For more interviewing tips, listen to this free Family History Made Easy podcast episode.

2. Transcribe the interview. After you’ve finished your chat, go back and type up the interview. Give yourself plenty of time: this takes longer than you think. Consider asking a fast-typing relative to help or hire a transcription service (here’s one option). Type things just as you hear them, incomplete sentences and all. Don’t include anything your loved one wants to keep “off the record.”

3. Print the transcript. Save an unedited copy of the typescript in your permanent files. Edit it a little to make it “reader-friendly” if you want to. Print it out. Add any extras, like family tree charts or copies of photos. Bind it however you prefer. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members can check out Lisa’s 3-part Premium podcast series on self-publishing: episodes 52-54). Share copies with loved ones: they make great holiday gifts.

Here’s a page from a sample project I did. It’s a simple stapled book, printed in landscape (sideways) format on regular-sized paper. I left the narrative in the format of a simple Q&A, just like it was spoken. I did edit slightly for clarity and flow. My questions are in italics and the speakers are identified (I was interviewing a husband and wife together). I added a few photos.

I shared copies of this book with every family member as holiday gifts a few years ago. Now everyone has a special legacy gift featuring this couple: their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren.

Now is the time for you to write a portion of your family history, and I’m here to help and support you. I will be conducting a fun and productive one-week workshop called the Genealogist’s Essential Writing Workshop at Family Tree University starting October 19. You can do this and I’m here to help!

Additional Family History Writing Resources from Genealogy Gems

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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