Clearfield Company has just republished one of the "classic books" about Ohio genealogy: Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index by Carol Willsey Bell, C.G. I had a chance to peruse the book this week.
This is not a brand-new publication. Instead, it is a reprint of a 1981 publication that has become a "must have" for anyone researching Ohio ancestry in the years prior to 1850. This popular book went out of print years ago and has been difficult to find in used book stores or online sites. It also is not available on CD-ROM. The re-appearance of this reference book is a welcome sight.
The publisher's web site reports that "Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index began as the brainchild of Anita Short, editor of the short-lived periodical, "Gateway to the West: Ohio," who originally published some of the records found in Ohio Wills and Estates in magazine format. Following Mrs. Short's exodus from genealogy, Carol Bell took on the project to compile a statewide index to all extant inheritance records in Ohio. The author traveled to courthouses throughout the Buckeye State in order to compile her index. She also enlisted a contingent of volunteers to assist with the indexing of inheritance records, which prior to 1852 were filed with the Courts of Common Pleas in still other Ohio counties.
The result is a 426-page book of rather small print that gives vital information about roughly 72,000 testators named in the will and estate records for all Ohio counties up to the year 1850.
The first 26 pages provide abbreviations, a glossary, and a brief description of every county in Ohio. Probate records are found at county courthouses in the state; so, the information about the counties is very important. The information in this book includes the county name, county seat, the year the county was formed, and the name of the county or counties from which it was formed. You need to know the dates and "parent" counties in order to find records. For instance, if you know that an ancestor died in the town of Lima, Ohio, in 1812, you can determine that you want to look in Shelby County probate records, not Allen County records. While Lima is in Allen County today, the county was not formed until 1820. Prior to that, it was a part of Shelby County. Your ancestor's probate records will be found in the Shelby County courthouse because that was the jurisdiction at the time of his or her death.
The final 400 pages of this book are filled with citations giving names of deceased individuals along with information about where their records may be found. For instance, here is one of the citations that I transcribed:
EASTMAN, James T. W-1848 SN wb1 p278; dc2 p14
Turning to the abbreviations in the front of the book, I was able to decode that as the following:
James T. Eastman is listed in a will in the year 1848 in Seneca (SN) County. His information may be found in that county's Will Book number 1, page 278, and in Docket 2, page 14.
As the name of the book says, this book is an index, not a complete transcription of full records. Once you find a person of interest in this index, you need to look at the original record for details. Wills often provide a wealth of data, often listing spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, nieces, and even neighbors. Wills are among the most useful of all records, ranking perhaps just a bit behind U.S. census records in the amount of valuable information to be obtained.
You will never know what information awaits you until you look at the original probate records. Luckily, many of the Ohio records are available on microfilm through your local Family History Center. For counties that have not yet been microfilmed, you can always write and ask for a photocopy of the original record. You will have to pay a fee for the photocopy, of course.
Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index by Carol Willsey Bell is a "must have" book for any genealogist researching Ohio ancestry. You need to purchase a copy yourself or go to a library to view it. Even better, you might purchase a copy now and then donate it to your favorite library when you have found all the information in it that you seek!
Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index by Carol Willsey Bell sells for $49.95. It is available directly from the publisher at http://tinyurl.com/ze3nv. Other bookstores may be able to order it for you if you specify ISBN: 0806352965.