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Monday, July 18, 2016

Can a Will Help Me with My Genealogy?

South Carolina Department of Archives & History
Census and vital records are the most common record types used in research. When you cannot find your ancestor or the record did not exist for the time period you need, check to see if your ancestor either left a will or was mentioned in someone else’s will.

Filling in missing information
Even if you do not know the name of the ancestor in the next generation, you may find the wills of people with the same surname indexed in the same county or parish where your ancestor lived. If you have recorded each person in the family group in your research, you may recognize them mentioned together in a will.

When you discover names in a will that look promising, compare them with the names on other records (ex: census or church records) to see if they appear together linked in families. Of course, this is easier if your ancestor remained in the same community. Searching for the will of each person on your ancestral line is a smart way to be certain you are not skipping a generation.

Learning from a will
Some of the things you will learn from a will that has been proven include:

  • Legal name of testator
  • The place where your ancestor lived
  • Names of spouse and children (sometimes grandchildren, other relatives and friends too)
  • Executor’s name (person who helps carry out the wishes of the testator)
  • Inventory of property and belongings and how everything is dispersed

Locating wills
You can save a great deal of time if you find a will index online. You can search The South Carolina Department of Archives and History’s Online Index’s Will Transcripts 1785-1855. Look for the will of your ancestor, and then search the transcripts for names that you recognize.

You can locate a will in the following ways:

  1. Look for wills indexed in books through the local genealogical society and the county or parish library.
  2. Use your ancestor’s death date to determine if a will exists at the local courthouse.
  3. Check the will index at the local archives. Use the index to locate the actual will which may be on microfilm.
  4. Search the Family History Library Catalog. Do a “Place Search” for the locality; then look among the results for wills or probate records. In a place search for North Carolina, Buncombe, the collection of wills and abstracts for the area are found by clicking on North Carolina, Buncombe – Probate Records (9).
  5. Check online collections for your ancestor’s area. Use the Research Wiki to resources for wills in your ancestor’s geographical area.

Learn more:


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