How to Search Probate Records in GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives

State laws required that a legal notice of a probate action be posted in local newspapers. This was the state’s method to get the word out to all interested parties that an estate was going to be disbursed to the heirs and creditors.

These legal requirements varied across the country, but we can reasonably expect that the newspapers where our ancestors lived carried these probate notices.

Probate records alert you to the names of the deceased, the executor of the will and—importantly—the court where the estate was probated. With this information, you can then contact that court to obtain a copy of the complete probate file for further genealogy research. Remember that an estate might not be probated for months or even a year after a person died, so you will want to search for probate and estate records using a wide span of years.

Search for newspaper probate notices by using GenealogyBank’s new “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search tool.

To get to this probate records search tool, begin by clicking on the “Search Newspaper Archives” link on GenealogyBank’s homepage.

GenealogyBank homepage with "Search Newspaper Archives" link

GenealogyBank homepage with “Search Newspaper Archives” link

Then look at the index on the left-hand side of the next page and click on the “Legal, Probate & Court” link.

GenealogyBank page with "Legal, Probate & Court" link

GenealogyBank page with “Legal, Probate & Court” link

This action brings you to the “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search box.

GenealogyBank's "Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News" search form

GenealogyBank’s “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search form

Simply search the newspapers for the state in question for your ancestor’s probate records. I would suggest limiting the initial probate notice search to only a surname and a year. Depending on the number of search result hits that are returned, you could add additional information to narrow down your search for your deceased relative’s probate and estate records.

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample "Legal/Probate/Court" records

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample “Legal/Probate/Court” records

Use this special “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search tool to save time and target your searches.

GenealogyBank’s “Guide to Searching for Your Ancestors” Infographic

GenealogyBank has a fresh new look with enhanced search features to help you find information about your ancestors faster. We created this GenealogyBank “Guide to Searching for Your Ancestors” Infographic to quickly introduce you to some of our recent website improvements so that you can get the most out of your ancestor searches.

Click here for the larger Infographic version.

Simple Search

To search all of the records available for your ancestor in our online archives start at the GenealogyBank homepage and do a simple search for your ancestor’s first and last name.

Advanced Search

If you’d like to narrow your ancestor search click the “Advanced Search” link in the lower right next to the “Search Now” button for expanded search options. The Advanced Search allows you to include and exclude keywords, as well as specify dates.

About Our Ancestor Search Options

1.      Ancestor’s Last Name

Enter the last name of the ancestor you are searching for. Try different name spellings and use wildcards to increase results (ex. Carol, Caroll, Car*).

2.      First Name

Enter the first name of the ancestor you are searching for. Try using different variations of your ancestor’s first name to increase search results (ex. William, Will, Bill, Wm.).

3.      Include Keywords

If you are looking for a specific type of record and wish to decrease search results enter a relevant keyword such as your ancestor’s occupation, university, hometown, etc.

4.      Exclude Keywords

If your search results contain irrelevant records for your ancestor, try narrowing your search by excluding keywords. For example, you may choose to exclude all records from a particular U.S. state by entering the state’s name.

5.      Date

If you know the date or date range of the records you would like to retrieve about your ancestor enter it here. For example, search a date range spanning years of birth to death (ex. 1850-1930).

 6.      Added Since

Use this handy feature to save you time. This drop-down menu lets you search only the new material added in the last month, sixty days or ninety days. This can be a real time-saver. If you’d like to search all the records, you can still do so by selecting “the beginning.”

New! Search Genealogy Records by Type

Now you can search genealogy records by type so that locating the specific record you are looking for is quick and convenient. Here is a list of some of the genealogy records now searchable by type:

Give us a ring at 1-866-641-3297 if you get stumped in your ancestor search. We’re always here to help. Enjoy using the newly redesigned site to find your ancestors!

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Got Genealogy Questions?

Do you have a genealogy question? Have you hit a brick wall in your genealogy research? Need help? Write our free “Ask the Genealogist” service and let’s see what we can find out for you about your family history.

And, hey—would you help us out and “Like” us on Facebook, and ask your friends to do the same?

Here’s a question about genealogy research we just received:

“Hello, I am researching the Moxham family line in Niagara, New York. I was doing fine then hit a block with Fred E. Moxham from 1861. I have done checking everywhere I could think of. He married Anna Maurer. I know he died young. If I could just figure out his father’s name it would be a great help I believe. Any thoughts?”

Here is our response to the genealogy question we were asked:

Notice that in the 1892 New York State census they list Fred as born in the U.S.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11684-14945-80?cc=1529100

Notice also that in the 1900 census his children state that the birth place of their father was New York.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MS2F-X22

  • Since he died in the Niagara County area—have you found copies of the probate file for his estate?
  • Do you have his death certificate?
  • Do you have a copy of their marriage certificate?
  • What church did they attend?
  • Did you find him in the 1870 census? 1880?

What do you make of the “other” Frederick Moxham living in Niagara County? He was born March 1830 in England.

In the 1880 census that other Frederick is 50 years old, his wife is 33 years old, and their oldest child is 12.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MZX8-DMP

Their difference in age in the 1880 census allows room for him to have had a first wife—and if so, they could have been the parents of your Frederick. Let’s see where this takes us.

You need to run the church, probate, land and census records for both Moxham households to see where the connections to your Fred E. Moxham are.

You can obtain those records from your area FamilySearch Center.

See: https://familysearch.org/search/search/library_catalog#searchType=catalog&filtered=true&fed=false&collectionId=&catSearchType=place&searchCriteria=&placeName=New+York%2C+Niagara&author_givenName=&author_surname=

For example, there is a marriage certificate for your Frederick Moxham’s son: Howard Moxham marrying Ruby Banks on 23 Dec 1911 in Niagara, New York.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6SK-LWL

And here is the marriage certificate for his son: Harold Fred Moxham in 1909.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6SF-7PY

You want to see these marriage certificates to see if they give the city/state of birth of the father Frederick E. Moxham. Hopefully it will give you the city so you can then find his birth/baptismal certificates.

Try these suggestions and let me know what you find.

The Story of Perkins Swain: A Genealogist’s Online Research Discoveries

Online genealogy research is endlessly fascinating—you never know what you will find. I was doing some family history research in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive when this double obituary caught my eye. Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 July 1834, page 3.

Just a short, simple notice, 4½ lines long—and yet what a sad story it tells.

Sally Swain, 27-year-old wife of Perkins Swain, died on 17 June 1834 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Her husband, Perkins Swain, age 37, “was in [his] usual health at the funeral of his deceased wife”—but abruptly died seven days later. No doubt, of a broken heart.

Can you imagine the grief of the pallbearers? They were probably family members, or at least friends and neighbors, who sadly carried the body of young Sally Swain to her grave on June 17th while her grieving yet healthy husband, Perkins, stood nearby. And then suddenly, just seven days later, those same pallbearers were carrying the body of her husband to join Sally’s gravesite.

Who were this couple struck down by tragedy? This story of a perfectly-healthy husband dying seven days after his young wife’s funeral made me want to research more about them and learn about their lives.

Digging deeper into my genealogy research online, I found a marriage announcement that Perkins Swain married Sally Weymouth in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in a November 1823 newspaper. Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 15 November 1823, page 3.

Looking at the free collection of New Hampshire marriage certificates online at FamilySearch, I quickly found their marriage certificate. They were married on 23 October 1823 by the Rev. William Blaisdell. FamilySearch.org is a handy genealogy site. It has put up the entire U.S. Census, as well as birth and marriage certificates from all 50 states and many foreign countries. This free website by the Family History Library is well worth a visit to find great genealogical information that can aid in your research. Checking further in GenealogyBank, I found a newspaper probate article showing that Perkins Swain had known tragedy earlier in his life, when he and his brother Gorham were orphaned at age 5 and 4 respectively. The Sun (Dover Gazette & County Advertiser) (Dover, New Hampshire), 21 December 1805, page 4.
Enlarging the first paragraph, we find some interesting details about Perkins Swain’s life.
In this probate notice, Thomas Balch is acting as guardian for the young orphans. We discover that their father was William Swain, “late of Gilmanton,” a tailor who died without leaving a will. Did he die unexpectedly? And why is there no mention of the mother? These are tantalizing questions that require further family history research.

This probate notice also tells us that the two young boys have inherited an estate of 100 acres in Gilmanton.

Continuing to look further in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive for details about Perkins Swain, I found this public auction notice that perhaps completes the story of his life.
New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 19 October 1835, page 3.

A year after his death, the homestead farm of Perkins Swain is being publicly auctioned on Nov. 2, 1835. This farm is a 100-acre parcel in Gilmanton, New Hampshire—the same piece of land we learned about in the probate notice of 1805.

Isn’t it amazing how many details we’ve found out about Perkins Swain, who died in 1834? We have found his marriage and death notices, his marriage certificate, the probate notice when he was orphaned at age 5, and the public auction notice of his farm after his death. With more online genealogy research, we could no doubt uncover even more details about Perkins Swain and his family.

There are so many digitized newspaper articles, historical documents and government records available online today—terrific research resources for genealogists.

This is a great day for genealogy.

How to Find Ancestor’s Legal Name Change Records with Newspapers

Sometimes when researching your family history, it is difficult to find a relative—they just seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.

Did they go into the witness protection program?
Were they abducted by aliens?
Did they go on a cruise through the Bermuda Triangle?

Maybe they simply changed their name.
After all, many people did opt to change their identity to start anew.


Daily People. (New York, New York) 25 September 1901. page 1.

Russian immigrant Max Kaplansky decided he needed to legally change his name. He had become a naturalized citizen of the United States and a businessman, but found that his surname caused him “much annoyance in the society of Americans” and that he was “subjected to much ridicule.”
In 1901 he went to the New York Supreme Court to request that his name be changed to Max Kapell because “Kaplansky” had become an obstacle, costing him “many opportunities” both “in a business and social way.” Court Justice James Aloysius O’Gorman agreed with him and granted his petition to change his name.

Kaplansky’s experience was something many immigrants with foreign names went through as they tried to fit in to turn-of-the century America. If your ancestor arrived in America around this time, perhaps he legally changed his name for the same reasons Kaplansky did.

Sometimes entire families legally changed their names. In 1848, members of the Dore family petitioned the New Hampshire State Legislature to change their surname from Dore to Richmond. There were a number of other people in New Hampshire who wanted to change their names at this time, as shown in the following historical newspaper article.

This name change record was printed by the New Hampshire Patriot & State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire), 6 July 1848, page 3.

I have even found name change records examples where a person applied to have only their middle name legally changed.

Take a look at this old name change record example. It was printed by the Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 8 August 1870, page 3.

In 1870, Hannah A. Simonds, mother of Thomas Batchelder Simonds petitioned her local Probate Court to have her son’s name legally changed to Thomas Stanley Simonds. Interestingly the court required her to inform the public of this name change by “publish[ing] this decree once a week for three successive weeks in the newspaper called the Salem Register, printed in Salem…” and then report back to the court “under oath that such notice has been given.”
So our ancestors often did change their names and over the years they could apply to various courts or levels of government to request this change. In these three legal name change examples the petitioners applied to their State Supreme Court, a state legislature and to a local probate court.

The key for genealogists is that legal name changes have been routinely reported in the local newspaper and in the case of the Probate Court of Salem, Massachusetts in 1870 – it required that an announcement of the the identity change be published in the local newspaper.

It’s amazing the genealogical information you can discover in newspaper archives to help you find missing family members.

Best source for old newspapers online

GenealogyBank is the best source for early US newspapers on the planet.

Last week I wrote about digging in GenealogyBank and finding articles about my early American ancestors in Maine.

I had found family death and marriage announcements – this week I kept digging for more information about William Garcelon (1763-1851) his wife Maria (Harris) Garcelon (1763-1850) and his father Sea Captain James Garcelon (1739-1813) – and I found it!

Wow – in GenealogyBank I found this article from the Maine Gazette 22 July 1799

reporting that William Garcelon lost a horse in 1799 – “a black mare, with a white face and two white hind feet, about 15 years old” – it adds the key fact that he was living in Freeport, Maine in 1799.

Looking further I found a shipping article in the Essex (MA) Gazette (1769) stating that [Captain] J[ames] Garcelon had set sail on the Schooner Alexander for Bilbao, [Spain].

By family tradition we knew that he was a sea captain but here was proof and details of this voyage in 1769 – just 10 years after he had settled in America.

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Wow – A newspaper published in 1769?

I didn’t know that newspapers that old had survived – let alone that they were digitized and easily searchable online.

Tip: GenealogyBank has old newspapers going back to 1690 – easy to search, read, print and save!

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Then in the 25 Feb 1811 issue of the Maine Gazette was the advertisement that James Garcelon’s farm was for sale. It gives a terrific description: 150 acres, 20 of them wooded, “handsome young orchard”, a “very pleasantly situated” two story house and more. Wow, you could almost picture the property.

Why was James Garcelon (1739-1813) selling his home and property? Were he and his wife, Deliverance (Annis) Garcelon (1735-1828), moving in with one of his children? At age 72, had he become infirm and unable to manage the property? Probably so.

We get another clue from the probate notice in the 24 Jan 1814 Maine Gazette.

Sea Captain James Garcelon had died 17 November 1813. His son [Rev.] James Garcelon was the executor.
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Tip: GenealogyBank is a goldmine.

No other source has this many early US newspapers.

Only newspapers give this level of detail about the lives of Colonial Americans.
Wow – over 3,700 newspapers – the best newspaper site on the planet.

Search GenealogyBank now.
What will you find? _____________________________________________________