Probate research is, in a sense, a study about family trees. Genealogists and historians are particularly apt to undergo probate research. Probate records give immensely invaluable information to them.
Researchers locate the places where the individuals in the family tree died. Sometimes the names of places are changed over time, or places themselves are located in a different state or country than where it used to be. For example, Eritrea, which is an independent country today, used to be part of Ethiopia. Within the US, some parts of Lincoln County which were in Maine in the 18th century are now parts of Kennebec, Waldo, Washington, Hancock, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc and Knox counties.
Researchers also seek out the exact location of the probate court governing the concern in which they are interested. The Internet and telephones are very useful in this.
Then they find the index of the probate records which are needed. Research libraries and archives can be useful in this work. Usually, indexes are stored at the archive sections of probate courts or web sites hosted by archives. These give a lot of information such as phone numbers and road maps. These indexes also come in printed format and as abstracts on microfilm.
Once the index is found, the researchers look for the decedent’s name [usually surname] from an alphabetically documented list and note down the docket number and the date of probate. Usually the dates of death and that of probate are close to each other.
Similarly they look for the names of the decedent’s relatives. In this part of the work, they will come across an array of files in the process. Then they prepare a list of possibly useful files and submit the list to the court clerk for retrieval. If the files are very old or off-line, retrieval takes several days. This is where online search is immensely useful. If the expected files are missing, the researchers turn to probate record books though the latter may not contain as much information.
Then they study the files in depth and take down all relevant notes. This is the most important part of the research. Today, a PC scanner or photocopier is very handy for this work. Then they return the original file to the court clerk.
Finally, they file their findings by labeling the name of the archive, address, telephone number, web site address and the date of research.
Data from such documentation can be relied upon, as they are based on clear evidence, whether the research topic is “Who was John’s great grandfather?” or “How old is that 19th century building?”