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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Researching the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley


Probate records, "the process of settling an estate after someone's death," rank among the most valuable genealogical records in existence, dating from the "earliest settlements in North America." Wills and other probate records exist "for persons in America in periods and places when there are few other records."

Probate packets or files can yield such personal information as the decedent's full name; his date and place of death; the names of his spouse, children, and grandchildren; his trade or occupation; residences; religious affiliation; citizenship;and relationships between family members. Probate files can contain a single record or a combination of records such as wills, inventories of assets, lists of heirs, appointments of executors or administrators, documentation of the distribution of assests, assignment of dower, indentures, claims, receipts, and guardianship petitions.

Probate records are usually filed at the county level based on the decedent's residence at the time of his death.

"Of all the documents ancestors have left behind, wills are among the most common." "Roughly half of the residents of the United States have either left wills or have been mentioned in them." Wills can clarify relationship information and may reveal exactly how the decedent felt about certain family members. Of special interest to genealogists as well as to economic and social historians are the intimate glimpses into the ancestor's lifestyle and social and economic status as shown by the list of his personal property (household inventories of clothing, furniture, tools, etc.), his standard of living, what he valued, and the property he owned including slaves.

Selective list of materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Abstracts of the probate records of Strafford County, New Hampshire, 1771-1799 - Evans, Helen F.
Call Number: F 42 S8 E92 1983b
Prepared from docket books, a series of bound volumes containing handwritten copies of most of the papers in the files of original documents which are too fragile for public use. Abstracts include the principal's residence, occupation, year of original court action, and all subsequent court actions on the case in chronological order. The every name index references case numbers.

Brinley family papers.
Call Number: Special Collections MS 161
"A prosperous family of merchants and landowners, the Brinleys were well ensconced among the social and political elite of colonial New England. Connected by marriage to other elite families in Rhode Island and Massachusetts - the Auchmutys, Craddocks, and Tyngs among them - the Brinleys were refined, highly educated, public spirited and most often business-minded."
"The Brinley collection includes business letters, legal and business records, wills, a fragment of a diary, documents relating to slaves, newspaper clippings, and a small number of paintings and artifacts." Series I Original Manuscripts and Documents includes a copy of Mrs. Elizabeth Brinley's 1791 will, the 1723 probate of Jonathan tyng's will and Sarah "Tyng Winslow's c. 1720 will.

A digest of the early Connecticut probate records - Manwaring, Charles William
Call Number: F 93 M29
Abstracts of early Connecticut Colony and Hartford Probate District probate records including wills, administration records, estate inventories, distributions, "associated court records," etc. Each volume contains estate and name indexes.
Volume 1  1635-1700
Volume 2  1700-1729
Volume 3

The early records of the Town of Providence; printed under the authority of the City Council of Providence
Call Number: F 89 P9 P9
Founded by Roger Williams as a town in 1636, Providence did not become part of a colony until 1643/1644. Described as, "probably the finest and most complete set of transcribed verbatim early records of any town in New England," the early Providence records include the usual town records as well as those from the colony. These records are, "the foundation for all seventeenth-century political, religious, educational, and social history of this general area."

Probate records appear in the following 4 of the 21 volumes:

Volume 6   1670-1720/1721
Contains part of "Will Book No. 1" originally called "The First Booke for Prouidence Towne Councill Perticulior vse" because the Town Council exercised probate jurisdiction.
Volume 7    1665-1717/1718
The final part of "Will Book No. 1."
Volume 10  1685-1714
Contains the "Book Called Town Council No. 1, 1692-1714." "The proceedings recorded in this volume refer almost entirely to the administration of probate affairs, for little else was brought to the Town Council for consideration." This volume is a record of the primary proceedings respecting the matters found in Volumes 6 and 7.
Volume 16  1708-1730
Includes a volume of probate records entitled "Records Contained in Will Book No. 2, from Sept. 12, 1716, to Jan. 7, 1728/9."

Each volume contains indexes of proper names, Indian names, subjects, and miscellaneous items (possessions such as pewter platters, bedding, cheese, iron pots, sheep, etc.). Volume 10 does not have a separate index to Indian names because so few occurred in that volume.
Richard LeBaron Bowen's Index to the early records of the Town of Providence  (Call Number: F 89 P9 P9 Index) offers "a consolidated index of white persons, Indians, negroes, and places" for the first 21 volumes.

The history of Enfield, Connecticut.../compiled from all the public records of the town known to exist: covering from the beginning to 1850...; with the graveyard inscriptions and those Hartford, Northampton and Springfield records which refer to the people of Enfield - Allen, Francis Olcott
Call Number: Special Collections F 104 E4 A4
Volume 3 contains probate records on pages 2215-2309. These abstracts are from records in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Includes a name index.

Index to wills in R.I. Genealogical Register, volumes 1 through 4 - Wakefield, Robert S.
Call Number: F 78 W34 1982
Includes "more than 50 wills written prior to 1692, some of which involve Plymouth Colony families." Provides the name of the testator, the year in which his will was written, his town of residence, and the volume and page of RIGR where an abstract of the will appears.

Maine wills, 1640-1760 - Sargent, William Mitchell
Call Number: F 18 S24
Verbatim transcripts of 471 wills "executed from the time of the earliest settlement until 1760, when York County was divided into the separate counties of York, Cumberland, and Lincoln." Contains indexes for testators, other persons, places, and miscellaneous items.

[Provincial and state papers] New Hampshire.
Call Number: F 31 N42
"Probate records of the Province of New Hampshire," found in the State Papers Series, Volumes 31-39. All wills are printed in full, with the exception of part of the preamble. "Each will is followed in chronological order by abstracts of all formal documents relating to the settlement of the estate." The material in each volume appears in chronological order. Every volume also contains a "List of Estates" (arranged alphabetically by name) which shows the place and date. Each volume includes indexes of places and persons
Volume 1 (31)  1635-1717
Volume 2 (32)   1718-1740
Volume 3 (33)   1741-1749
Volume 4 (34)   1750-1753
Volume 5 (35)   1754-1756
Volume 6 (36)   1757-1760
Volume 7 (37)   1760-1763
Volume 8 (38)   1764-1767
Volume 9 (39)   1767-1771

The public records of the colony of Connecticut [1636-1776]...transcribed and published, (in accordance with a resolution of the General Assembly).
Call Number: F 97 C7
The General Index in Volume 1 refers to testate estates under "Wills and Inventories" and to intestate estates under "Estates."

Records of the Particular Court of the Colony of Connecticut. Administration of Sir Edmond Andros, royal governor, 1687-1688.
Call Number: KFC 4116 H3 A7 1687
Chiefly clerk's entries which appear to pertain exclusively to Hartford County. Includes records of 18 probates not mentioned in Charles W. Manwaring's Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records (Volume 1, Hartford District, 1635-1700). Does not contain an index.

Rural household inventories, establishing the names, uses, and furnishings of rooms in the colonial New England home, 1675-1775 -Cummings, Abbott Lowell
Call Number: F 72 S9 C9
109 complete room-by-room inventories for rural towns in Suffolk County from 1675-1775. Covers Braintree, Brookline, Chelsea, Dedham, Dorchester, Hingham, Hull, Milton, Roxbury, and Weymouth estate inventories for ordinary individuals such as yeoman farmers and husbandmen. Contains an index to persons, places, and subjects.


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Court records - Connecticut

Inventories of decedents' estates - New England

Probate records - New Hampshire - Strafford County