Posted by Jessica Murray on February 18, 2016 in Collections

Last year, Ancestry put more than 170 million U.S. Wills and Probate Records online for all 50 states. If you haven’t already discovered these records, you really need to check them out. Probate records offer unique insights into who and what was important to our ancestors and can often establish relationships not found in other records.

In this video, Amy Johnson Crow walks us through how to find our ancestors’ records, even when his or her record isn’t indexed in the database.

Search Tips

  • While estate files can include names of witnesses, heirs, and other associates, only the name of the testator has been indexed.
  • Although there is a field to include a death date and place in the search form, keep in mind that some of the records may not list a date or place of death. And for some of the records, Ancestry has inferred the death date and place based on the probate location. Death location is only inferred to the state level, so specifying a particular county and then choosing Exact (or Exact/Adjacent) will turn up no results. In addition, the date of a court record (for example, an accounting) may be recorded years after the probate process began.
  • Use the Any Event field to enter a more precise probate location and date. That said, keep in mind that there may be probates in any location where the testator had property, so don’t skip hits because the location doesn’t match exactly, particularly if the person was wealthy and may have had property in other jurisdictions.
  • Once you’re through examining a probate packet, you can return to the main search form for that state by clicking on the title in the gray bar above the image.
  • The probate process can go on for many years, depending on the estate and provisions in the will, so be flexible with dates.
  • In jurisdictions where records were parsed out into different record groups, as opposed to bundled into one probate packet, there may be more than one record for your ancestor, so be sure to look at all the possible references to your ancestor in the search results.

Search the new probate collection on Ancestry.

Download a free guide to the collection and learn 5 Things You Should Know to Get the Most from the Probate Collection on Ancestry.  – Juliana Szucs

Want more helpful tips in 5 minutes or less? Visit our 5-Minute Finds playlist on YouTube here.

Jessica Murray

Jessica serves as Social Media Manager for Ancestry, United States.


  1. Laura

    Please let us know when probate records from Oregon, Washington and other western states are added to your collection. Why do records always seem to start on the east coast and take years to for western states records to be available?

  2. Vicki R

    This was very helpful! I did not know about the breadcrumb navigation leading to more records in the drop down list! Question: I have trouble quickly finding the correct image because the image number in the page finder and the image number in the film strip image finder do not match with the actual page number in the actual book that has been scanned. How did you find page 15 in the probate journal 8 so quickly? Thank you!

  3. Sue

    Please be aware that the probate books for some states and/or counties within specific states contain more than just probate records. Sometimes, names in these records are in the index even though they are not the testator or the deceased. I have found folks on delinquent tax lists as being indexed as having died and folks in deeds indexed as deed books do occasionally appear in the probate collection. I suggest folks look at the drop down menu in the browse box to see what books are included for a particular county whether or not you are looking for a probate. You may be surprised to see non-probate type records for a given county.

  4. When the probate records were first uploaded, Virginia was included. Shortly thereafter, Virginia was removed. Will Virginia be included again, and if so, when? Thanks for any info. tmg

  5. Joyce

    AND be sure to check ALL dates on probate records. I found one record on one of my ancestors that was indexed by the date he WROTE it–not the date it was processed–although this error was reported it has yet to be fixed–and I reported it over a month ago via autocorrect and also contact ancestry. If someone has the same name on an ancestry probate listing check it even if it is many years before that person’s death date as this probate record was indexed for a date 6 years prior to his death–when he wrote his will. Transcriptions on MANY documents on ancestry are horrendous—I have found TONS of directories incorrect as well and the ENTIRE database of New England Marriages before 1700 is wrong…as they did not read the instructions Torrey wrote for what all his various “codes” meant. He uses a b to signify the date of birth of the first child and ancestry has transcribed ALL of those documents as the date of marriage–although headquarters was informed about those 80,000 or so records incorrectly transcribed, they indicated they were not going to address it any time soon as “they want to address those records that affect the most people first”….well if 80,000 records that probably affect 100 x as many descendants at least (remember peopel werre having 10-12 kids each back then) then I don’t know what DOES take priority with ancestry. Just beware of the errors in probate the the marriage records. READ Torreys instructions for that database on about pg 14 in the card catalog to make sure you are interpretting those correctly because ancestry sure hasn’t.

  6. Joyce

    woops sorry for typos–Torrey is the author of the New England marriages before 1700—and you can find it and several suppplements in the card catalog–Torreys coding is SO convoluted I have to refer to the instructions ever time I run across one of those records.

    And beware the incorrect probate dates…

  7. Brian

    Would be nice if, upon finding a record for a name that wasn’t indexed, there was a way to add the name to the index so future researchers could benefit from our extra digging

  8. Steve

    Has there been any word about Virginia wills and probate records being added? I thought Virginia was the only state left out until I read Todd’s comment above. Thanks.

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