Courting My Ancestors
Court records are an invaluable source of information about our ancestors. Wills, probate, and legal records can provide the sort of familial details not found in vital records. I have successfully used court records to discover family associations, personal property descriptions, information about crops and livestock, financial details, and names of neighbors. Many court records can be found on popular genealogy sites, sometimes they are not indexed though. Another online resource for court records are state and university libraries.
I previously wrote about my 2nd great-grandfather William King’s (1833-1876) probate record for last years Week 48 prompt, Strength.  His probate file is lengthy, but something I found most interesting was the details of the smaller debts.  These small debts included the mercantile store and the list of recently purchased goods. At the bottom of the list are items the King family sold to the mercantile, mostly butter and eggs. The list of goods is a peek at the everyday life of a farming family in the mid 19th century. Items such as yards of various fabrics, suspenders, a lamp, and pounds of coffee, rice, and sugar, are items they could not grow themselves. Below is the inventory of the livestock and a receipt for William’s coffin, both are part of the probate file. By the way, I wrote about the probate file of William King’s father, (my 3rd great-grandfather) Jesse King (1805-1868) back in 2017.  It is also full of details not found in other sorts of records.
I wrote about my 3rd great-grandfather Anderson Dyer (1814-1844) for the 2020 Week 9 prompt Family Disaster.  One of the sources I cited was his nuncupative will that was recorded in Grainger Co, TN 22 Oct 1844.  In addition to listing the names of his wife and children it specifically mentions the fact that his wife was pregnant when the will was related. Besides discovering the original court record online, there is also a transcribed copy made by the county clerk at a later time that is MUCH easier to read.
Also worth mentioning is the fact not all pages of the scanned court records have been indexed. If you suspect your ancestor left a will, or should have a probate packet, then it may be the document is scanned but not indexed. In this case, find the appropriate record group, such as a “Wills and Probate” title for the county where you ancestor lived or died. Navigate to the first pages of the record group and there should be an index. Depending on the style of record keeping, the index will be organized alphabetically by surname and possibly by year, or range of years. If you find your ancestors name in the index there should be a number associated with their entry. This number will either be a page number in the record book or a case number. Again, it depends on the style of record keeping by the particular court.
Example of Non-Indexed Records
I felt lucky to find the nuncupative will of my 3rd great-grandfather. One because it was an oral will that actually got recorded, and two, because it was not indexed. (I later discovered the will was indexed under the name of the witness.) I had previously found an indexed record for the testamentary letter request for his estate.  For this reason, I thought a will must exist and went searching for it. In this case, I found Anderson Dyer in the index section of the newer, transcribed version of the Grainger County Wills and Settlements.  This index lists his will as being #327, is that a page or a record? I returned to the original court records titled “Inventories of Estates and Wills, 1833-1852” on Ancestry. There are 705 images, image #327 has page/record 265. I started jumping ahead by 10’s. Image #357 had page/record 326, it was a matter of moving ahead 1 image to discover the original recording of Anderson Dyer’s oral will. The index also gave me additional pages/records to look for that were not indexed.
Court records are a great resource when researching your ancestors and should not be discounted. Do not overlook the possibility your ancestors’ court records are not indexed but are scanned and available online. Family Search particularly has many non-indexed court records, so be sure to check there using state and county names for the title of the record group. For law court records, the best place to search is state and university libraries. Although, legal court cases can often be found reported on or mentioned in the public notice section in newspapers. The sorts of details you will find in court records are not those found in vital records and can really add to what you know about your ancestors.
- Blog post, Family Finds: Strength;; https://barblafara.com/strength/
- Probate Record for William King, Probate Case Files and Indexes 1852-1900; Probate Place: Mercer County, Ohio; Probate Case# 1810; [database on-line] Accessed at Ancestry,
- Blog post, Family Finds: The Probate of Jesse King;; https://barblafara.com/probate-jesse-king-1868/
- Blog post, Family Finds: Family Disaster; https://barblafara.com/disaster/
- Entry for Samuel Shields [Anderson T Dyer], Probate Records, 1831-1972; Author: Tennessee County Court (Grainger County); Probate Place: Grainger, Tennessee; Ancestry.com. Tennessee, Wills and Probate Records, 1779-2008; [database on-line]. Accessed at Ancestry, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9176/images/004776329_00358
- Entry for Anderson Y [T] Dyer, Wills and Probate Records, 1779-2008; Probate Place: Grainger County, Tennessee; Record Set: Administrators Bonds and Letters, 1831-1910; [database on-line]. Accessed at Ancestry, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9176/images/004776325_00069?pId=4144189
- Entry for Anderson Dyer, Wills and Probate Records, 1779-2008; Probate Place: Grainger County, Tennessee; Record Set: Wills and Settlements, 1839-1847; [database on-line]. Accessed at Ancestry, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9176/images/004776041_00018?pId=4468905
Born Takeo Furukawa on 15 March 1883 in Tottori-Ken, Tokyo, Japan, little is documented of his early childhood. Family oral history stories say that the young Takeo experienced hunger, poverty and the loss of his family. Additionally, the stories tell of friendship, spiritual learning and scholarship.
My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne, lived at over 20 addresses around Indianapolis between 1876 and 1942. I thought it would be interesting to see all the old buildings and homes where he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis.
My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne (1848-1942), was a widower with two young sons in 1886 when he married Jennie Warbington (1857-1918) in Minneapolis on the 27th of May. I decided it was time to put sources to the story.
While working on a family photo project I decided it would be fun to compare side-by-side my father and his parents, at similar ages, to try and discover a family resemblance.
Jesse King was born in Ohio (probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe) in 1805, he was a son of Philip King and Mary Leah Wright, both of Pennsylvania. Philip King was a farmer, he married Leah Wright in 1801 in Somerset, PA, they had six children, of whom Jesse was the third.
A handwritten letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary to the then president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. It was her last appeal for a War of 1812 pension, sadly the pension was denied. The letter gives a glimpse of a woman who had no formal education, a poor farmers wife, then widow, mother of nine, she probably just wanted some independence through an income of her own.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Challenge
So much about genealogy research is a challenge, perhaps the most common challenge is the ‘brick wall,’ meet Sarah Smith. 18?? – 1846
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 3: Unusual Name
The surnames in my tree are typical of common western European names. However, the name that is unusual among these names is MY surname: LaFara.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 6: Surprise!
Just when you think you know everything about an ancestor, surprise! I thought I knew most everything about my paternal great grandfather David L. Osborne, 1848-1942.
For all of us who are procrastinating about labeling photos I have one thing to say, “Be considerate of the genealogist of the future!” My maternal grandmother was very good about labeling old family photos, and there is one, in particular, I found very informative.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 10: Bachelor Uncle
My uncles are the marrying kind, sometimes more than once!
I had to go back four generations for a bachelor uncle, my great-great-great uncle Conrad Rumple, 1833-1911.
Conrad was an older brother to my great-great grandfather on my matrilineal line, William Rumple, 1839-1912.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 11: Large Family
My great-great grandparents, George Lafary and Catherine Landon, had a relatively small family, three of their six children survived to adulthood. However, they both came from large families of nine siblings and nearly all survived to marry and have children.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 13: In The Paper
It’s fun to find articles in the paper mentioning one of my relatives. Mostly they are birth, marriage, divorce and death events. But, it’s the oddball articles in the papers I like the most.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 14: Brick Wall
We all have a brick wall, that one ancestor who defies all research. I decided I would work at my brick walls by generation, I broke through the last of my 3rd great grandparent brick walls, now I am working on 4th great grandparents.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 16: Out of Place
I realized I did not have a date of death for my great, great grandmother, Catherine Landon Lafary. A fresh search uncovered the date and much more. Out of place, but once discovered, everything fell into place.
I have many favorite photos among my collection of family artifacts. Currently, my favorite photo is of two little children from 1916 who were a complete mystery to me until last spring.