The recent explosion of records available online to trace your family history may lead to a false sense of security, that you've found everything there is to find on your family. This is the first part in a series highlighting how many records there are that are not yet (and perhaps never will be) online.
There may be census records, birth, marriage and death records galore, in many different online sources, but something you won't see much are digitized images of wills and probate records. In one of the many boxes at the North Carolina State Archives is a file folder for one such will. James Oliver, Revolutionary War veteran, wrote his will in 1829. In it he named his beloved wife Susannah, along with his children: John Oliver, Polly (who married William Goff), Susannah (who married James Lumbrick), Sally (who married William Shepherd), Samuel, Elizabeth, and Nancy (who married Thomas Barker). In addition, one of the witnesses to the will was Peter Oliver.
You won't find this online!
I've come to the point where I've decided on the families I'm going to write about for my portfolio - for the kinship determination, and for the conflicting evidence report. In the last few days I have been looking through the binders I've compiled on those families, and I've had the startling realization that there are big, black, gaping holes in my research.
What? I don't have a death certificate for my great-grandfather Henry Chase? I do have my handwritten transcription of the death record I found in Manistee County, Michigan when I visited in 1983 (odd, because he actually died in Grand Traverse County), and I also have extensive medical records from the Traverse City State Hospital. But not his death certificate.
Off goes an email to the Grand Traverse County Clerk.
I can't believe I never thought of obtaining the will and/or probate records for several grandparents and great-grandparents. Probate records for Ruth (Prosser) Chase MIGHT give me information on her daughter Edna Strunk, who was living in New York at the time of Ruth's 1915 obituary, and hasn't been seen since.
So I'm writing a request to the Manistee County Clerk for those records.
A will for John Hickox, who died in Medina, Ohio, in 1835, might reveal the names of his grown children by his first marriage. It might even reveal names of siblings back in New York, which would enable me to figure out where in New York he lived before coming to Ohio.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has Medina County, Ohio, wills on microfilm; next time I order film for a client I'll order a couple of films for myself, as well.
Yes, it's past time for me to start treating my own research as I would my clients'!