Friday, April 8, 2011

Original Will Documents

The discovery of an original last will and testament, deed or marriage record is indeed difficult for the genealogist to locate. We really need to view the original will document because it not only provides the hand-writing of the decedent, names of witnesses, but detailed information about the disposal of the worldly goods. Ypu can read the abstracts all day long. However, until you read the original document, you do not fully understand your ancestor's intent. Now, where are these originals? Well, initially the wills and marriages are filed in the record room of the clerk's office of the probate court. Deeds are filed in the record room of the Superior Court. These documents were copied by the clerk in his own hand-writing in the large, heavy books inside the record room. The copying sometimes added error, misspellings, omitted words and lines. I worked on the Brantley genealogy in Georgia for a number of years trying to unravel a last will and testament. Finally, upon visiting the court house, I located the original document. What a difference! The name of the testator had been incorrectly written by the clerk. Finding this document resolved a genealogy of errors by all of those who accepted the clerk's record. The oldest documents have virtually disappeared from all court houses. They got stored, lost or even stolen. In today's world, some court houses (like Chatham County, Georgia) are storing their old books on an off-site location and you have to wait several days for them to be delivered to the court house. In other words, the public does not have access to the storage facility. I filmed as many of Chatham's old wills as possible upon my visits there and put them online available to members of Georgia Pioneers Also, I have to tell you that the employees of some court houses have no knowledge of old records and cannot help you locate them. In the State of Virginia, the old books were removed to the Virginia State Archives in Richmond. Still, these are not the documents themselves. The Georgia State Archives has been given some original documents, such as land plats,but you have to sign them out. Also, I understand that they have some original wills for certain counties. The thing to do is to ask the librarian and hope that she is knowledgeable. What is happening is that some original documents are turned over to State Archives. Georgia is having budget issues now and is only open 3 days a week to the public. When you visit there, look in the glass display cabinets. Georgia has filmed most of Georgia's 156 oldest county will books and continues to work on this project. Another place to search for the oldest books would be local historical and genealogical societies. Do the employees at the court house know this? No. You simply have to nose around. I suspect that we may lose more of our record books as time passes, for one reason or the other.

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