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FamilySearch.org makes images available for browsing before the (computer) indexes to the collections are available. Recently some probate collections have come online, and I have made a couple of tries at browsing the collections to see if I can find research subjects. How can I make effective use of my time, when I can't view an entire 'microfilm roll' in one session?

Step one of my research plan might be: generate a checklist of deceased individuals whose probate records might be in the area and time covered by the record collection. The list should include the date of death and enough identifying information to recognize the person when I find their records. For some of the veterans, this might include dependents who were mentioned in their pension applications.

In more complex cases, step two: create a timeline. One of the estates I need to find was the subject of an extended dispute, and there are several newspaper accounts which refer to the court calendar, where the executor was required to make a new accounting. This should provide several pointers to when records might have been made.

Step three might be a search for indexes to probate records for that locality.

What else might be useful when browsing the records?

I need some kind of checklist to keep track of what rolls I've viewed already, or where I left off, if I had to stop in the middle, but I'm not sure what would be most useful. (One researcher I know created a Google Docs spreadsheet and made her own name index of the records as she went along.)

The specific collections I'm looking at are: Georgia, Probate Records, 1742-1990 and New York, Queens County Probate Records, 1785-1950 but I'd like to work up a checklist that would serve for any locality.

There is a related question: Are there checklists or templates made for visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? -- what I'm trying to puzzle out is what elements need to be on a checklist.


Since I wrote the original question, a card index for administrations in Queens County New York has been published online, so I've found the record I was looking for in that county. See Using a card index to find Probate records.

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    Another parameter to factor into the tracking set-up is how the waypoints are labelled or arranged. Unindexed collections may have informative waypoint names from the start, but FamilySearch sometimes uses only the digital film numbers. If only numbers are used as waypoints, you'll have to determine a descriptive name yourself. – bgwiehle Apr 25 '14 at 16:56
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Most of the unindexed (not digitally indexed) probate books I've looked at on FamilySearch either have a separate index book, or a handwritten surname index in the first few pages of each volume. I looked at a couple of the Georgia rolls - both Fulton County (Atlanta) and Richmond County (Augusta) have separate indexes; Chatham County (Savannah) has a handwritten surname index in the front of the first book, I would guess that their other books are similar.

If the counties you're looking at have no such index whatsoever, tracking progress by microfilm name (county & film name) and image number is clumsy, but workable.

The biggest problems for me are that (a) due to microfilm header frames, multiple pages per image, etc., the page numbers given in an index don't match the image numbers; and (b) since there are often multiple physical books per roll, finding the start of the next book (e.g., to find the handwritten surname index) is also tedious.

Also, some indexes key off both surname and given name (e.g., all surnames starting with "S" and given names starting with "J" are in one part of the index, while surnames starting with "S" and given names starting with "M" are in another). If so, handwritten surname indexes are sometimes faster if you're looking for everyone with a given surname.

I probably don't need to point out that not all administrations show up in will books, and orphan's court proceedings may turn up information not in wills or administrations.

  • The records that I've peeked at so far seem to be a real mixed bag. Sometimes you get rolls which are all of a kind, like administrations, and sometimes you get mixed proceedings which are some of everything. – Jan Murphy Apr 29 '14 at 20:57
  • For the Georgia records, Harris and Whitfield Counties have separate index books -- within those, there are keytables at the start of each section (e.g. ABC is one such section). Now that I have more experience working with these records, I should be able to set up a checklist for myself, using the principles in the question http://genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/3979/1006. – Jan Murphy Feb 26 '15 at 22:56

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