Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
UMass Amherst Libraries


A guide to selected genealogical resources at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.


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.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library owns numerous and varied resources pertaining to probate records. 

Selective List of Materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Abstracts of colonial wills of the State of Georgia, 1733-1777.
Call Number: F 285 N3
Abstracts are arranged alphabetically by surname. Also includes a name index to the wills.

Bristol wills, 1546-1593.
Call Number: DA 690 B8 B7
Transcripts of 103 Elizabethan wills.

Calendar of persons commemorated in monumental inscriptions and of abstracts of wills, administrations, & c., contained in books relating to Lancashire and Cheshire - Beazley, Frank Charles
Call Number: Z 5313 G69 B4
An alphabetical list of names which includes references to the volumes and pages in which abstracts were found.

A calendar of wills relating to the counties of Northampton and Rutland: proved in the court of the archdeacon of Northampton, 1510 to 1652.
Call Number: CS 434 B7  Volumes 1-3 1968
Includes a surname index.

English estates of American colonists: American wills and administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1699 - Coldham, Peter Wilson
Call Number: CS 68 C52
An alphabetical list of testators and intestates. Notes American connection, date, type of document, marital status, and relatives named. Contains an index of executors, administrators, and attorneys.

English estates of American colonists: American wills and administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1700-1799 - Coldham, Peter Wilson
Call Number: Cs 68 C53
An alphabetical list of testators and intestates. Notes American connection, date, type of document, marital status, and relatives named. Contains an index of executors, administrators, and attorneys.

English estates of American settlers: American wills and administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1800-1858 - Coldham, Peter Wilson
Call Number: CS 68 C54
An alphabetical list of testators and intestates, persons dying abroad with estates or credits in England. Notes American connection, date, type of document, marital status, and relatives named. Contains indexes of places; and executors, administrators, and attorneys.

Essex wills (England): Archdeaconry of Essex, Archdeaconry of Colchester, Archdeaconry of Middlesex (Essex Division), preserved in the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford - Emmison, Frederick George
Call Number: CS 42 N43 Number 51 Volume 1
Abstracts of wills (1558-1565) of "craftsmen, tradesmen, small farmers and the like, from whom, a few generations later, many of the emigrants to New England were drawn." Contains indexes of persons, places, and subjects.

The fifty earliest wills in the Court of probate, London. A.D. 1387-1439.
Call Number: PR 1119 A2 Number 78
Includes "List of names and places."

Genealogical gleanings in England - Waters, Henry Fitz-Gilbert
Call Number: CS 411 W35 (Volume 1 only)
"Abstracts of Wills relating to Early American Families, with Genealogical Notes and Pedigrees from the Wills and from other records." Most of this material was originally published in serial form in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register from 1883 through 1899. Includes references to individuals from New England, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, and the West Indies. Indexes are available in the New Series (which the W.E.B. Du Bois Library does not own).

The goods and chattels of our forefathers: Frampton Cotterell and district probate inventories, 1539-1804.
Call Number: DA 670 G5 M6
Contains more than 400 probate inventories, including, a rarity, five from paupers. These inventories provide "an invaluable source of information on the material environment of the ordinary lives of the common people in the early modern other single source has the same detail and coverage." Contains a glossary and indexes of persons and places.

Index of wills and administrations now preserved in the Probate Registry at Canterbury. 1396-1558 and 1640-1650.
Call Number: CS 434 B7 Volume 50  1968
"Wills proved at Canterbury so greatly exceed those in any other registry." An alphabetical name list shows the volumes, folios, and years of the appropriate register or act book in which the records will be found. 

Index to testamentary records in the Commissary Court of London (London Division) now preserved in the Guildhall Library, London.
Call Number: CS 436 L7 A25
Volume 1 (1374-1488) contains indexes of Testamentary Records (arranged alphabetically), "trades and conditions," and places. Volume 2 (1489-1570) also contains indexes to commissions and misdeameanors.

Index to wills proved and administrations granted in the Court of the Archdeacon of Berks, 1508 to 1652.
Call Number: DA 690 O97 O8 Volume 23
                   CS 434 B7 Volume 8 1968 (Reprint)
An alphabetical list of names pertaining to "about 19,000 wills and administrations."

The Law reports. Courts of Probate and Divorce.
Call Number: KD 279 A1
The Acts of 1857 established the Probate and Divorce Courts. Such matters had previously been under the Ecclesiastical Courts' jurisdiction. Cases include those of lost wills, "wills of married woman," and "testamentary suits." Each volume contains a Table of Cases and a legal subject index.
Volume 1  1865-1869
Volume 2  1869-1872
Volume 3  1872-1875

Lloyd A. Trent, Jr. family papers.
Call Number: Special Collections  MS 373
"Five generations of an African-American family that achieved commercial success and wealth through the restaurant and catering business as well as extensive real estate investments at the turn of the 20th century in New York City, Brooklyn, and Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York Includes letters, public and church records, news clippings, ephemera, a videotape, and 87 photographs." Also includes copies of wills.

Magruder's Maryland colonial abstracts; wills, accounts, and inventories, 1772-1777 - Magruder, James Mosby
Call Number: F 180 M27
Each volume contains a name index for the abstracts within the particular date range.

Maryland, index to the wills of: St. Mary's County, 1662-1960; Somerset County, 1664-1955 - Hume, Joan
Call Number: F 187 S2 H8

New Jersey index of wills.
Call Number: F 133 A45
The three volumes contain an alphabetical name list for each county, drawn from wills, inventories, etc. in the office of the Secretary of State prior to 1901. Notes the type of document, date, and location.
Volume 1  Atlantic to Essex Counties
Volume 2  
Gloucester to Monmouth Counties
Volume 3   
Morris to Warren Counties

Virginia wills and administrations, 1632-1800; an index of wills recorded in local courts of Virginia, 1632-1800, and of administrations on estates shown by inventories of the estates of intestates recorded in will (and other) books of local courts, 1632-1800 - Torrence, Clayton
Call Number: F 225 T85 1965
"An index to the early estates in Virginia." An alphabetical surname index which is then broken down by county and by baptismal name, with the date and nature of the document recorded.

Westmoreland County - Crozier, William Armstrong
Call Number: F 232 W4 C7 1962
Brief abstracts of Westmoreland County, Virginia wills. Contains a surname index.

Williamsburg wills, being transcriptions from the original files at the Chancery Court of Williamsburg - Crozier, William Armstrong
Call Number: F 221 V75 Volume 3
Abstracts of all wills on file in the Chancery Court. Includes a surname index.

Wills and inventories from the registers of the Commissary of Bury St. Edmunds and the Archdeacon of Sudbury - Tymms, Samuel
Call Number: DA 20 R9 Volume 49
Covers 1370-1650 and includes indexes of testators, persons, places, and subjects.

Wills from Doctors' Commons. a selection from the wills of eminent persons proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1495-1695.
Call Number: DA 20 R9 Volume 83
Contains 32 wills including those of Royal Family members, Archbishops of Canterbury, Sir Francis Drake, etc. Has name and place indexes.

Wills of early New York Jews, 1704-1799.
Call Number: F 128.25 H58
Contains 41 wills (25 in facsimile) which include those of prominent individuals, four women, and a number of Anglo-Jewish wills disposing of assets in New York. Originally published as a three-part article in the Jewish Historical Quarterly. Includes a detailed bibliography and an index of testators. The wills are arranged chronologically. Because few vital records exist for Jews during the Colonial and Federal periods, the wills fill a gap and provide a highly personal glimpse into the daily economic and social lives of these individuals.

Wills of the U.S. Presidents.
Call Number: E 176.1 W724+  (1976)
Contains the full text of each will with historical and legal comments.



  Find More

Search the Library Catalog by Subject. Examples of subject searches:

Inheritance and succession - United States - History

Inventories of decedents' estates - Virginia

Probate law and practice - Great Britain - Cases

Wills - England - Rutland County

Wills - Virginia

Wills - Williamsburg