Sunday, June 17, 2012

Don't assume that probate courts only do probate!

A friend of mine was stuck on finding her immigrant ancestor's mid-1800s naturalization record in southern Indiana. This is a notoriously tricky research task, since the law at the time allowed newcomers, after the proper lapse of time, to make known their intention and later petition for their naturalization in any court of record, wherever they happened to be at those two times.

A nationwide reference book said the naturalizations could be found in the county's probate court order book. A reference librarian at a very prominent library thought the notion was absurd.

At first, I agreed with the reference librarian. I certainly don't recall ever seeing a naturalization in my home county's probate court records (they're all over the circuit court books). But a small voice said, "Y'know, a probate court is a court of record." And I recalled a speaker at our society who had mentioned how probate courts often heard non-probate cases.

Of course by now you know what happened. The probate court order book was the last place I looked, and there was the immigrant ancestor's naturalization.

The point here is that I did look. Sometimes the best methodology is the one that finds the record.

Harold Henderson, "Don't assume that probate courts only do probate!" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Judy G. Russell said...

I will respectfully disagree with one word in this sentence: "Sometimes the best methodology is the one that finds the record." The word I respectfully disagree with is "sometimes."

Harold said...

Thanks, Judy. The court will LOL and take the motion under advisement.

Michael Hait said...

Prior to 1906 naturalizations could appear in any court. This would of course include probate courts, police courts, courts of appeals, courts of common pleas, and any number of other local court, depending on your jurisdiction--and I have found them in all of the above and others.

Tex said...

I hate to admit that we librarians are fallible, but 'tis so. :-)

However, I have found treasures in probate courts--divorces, naturalizations, sometimes guardianships, and yes, even probates. I learned early on to check probate records--

Tex said...

errrrr, make that probate COURT records.