Pennsylvania Probate Records

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Pennsylvania Family History Research series.
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Pennsylvania Probate Records
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The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed an act in 1682, which required the recording of wills and letters of administration. The first place to seek a will or other type of estate record in the Keystone State is with the county register of wills. Here researchers will find files of original papers pertaining to an estate as well as the record books in which were copied wills and letters of administration. In some counties the original papers may be arranged by type of document'will, bond, or account'and thereunder, by date of filing. Most microfilming of estate records has concentrated on will books, but the files must not be passed up even where there is a will. The clerk of the Orphans' Court in each county (who is often the register of wills) is responsible for keeping such records that concern the division of estates, guardians of minor children, and so forth. Indexes to records in both the register of wills and clerk of the Orphans' Court offices should both be checked, as often there will be action on an estate in both places. Most county indexes will lead to a docket book, which in turn will summarize the existing documents and record book entries. Besides the availability of many Pennsylvania estate records on microfilm and some in abstract form in periodicals such as Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Your Family Tree, and the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly, or in separate publications, published indexes for many counties are widely available, usually up to about 1900. Some of these indexes cover both wills and letters of administration and provide the year of the first action on the estate, the volume and page for the will or letters of administration, and the file number of the original papers, if a number has been assigned. Microfilms of the indexes and record books are at the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and many for the western counties are at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

In counties with large German populations, such as Berks, Lancaster, and York, it is common to find original wills written in German, with English translations. collections available for free online: