Monday, May 21, 2012

Collection Highlight : Van Buren County Probate Case Files

What are probate files?  A common misconception is that probate is synonymous with wills.  In truth, wills are only a portion of what can be found in a probate file or packet.  Sometime ago, I heard at a lecture about probate records as a genealogical record source that only about 11 percent of our ancestors actually had wills, but the percentage that have probate files is much higher.

Although one of the functions of probate court is to settle estates, there are other types of cases that can be found under the heading of probate.  Some examples include:  guardianship (children & adult), incompetency & commitments, name changes, adoption, and in Van Buren County early establishment of county drains.  

In the typical probate of an estate, you may find one more more of the following:
  • Will
  • Inventory (these are especially interesting)
  • Petition for Probate (listing all of the heirs-at-law)
  • Letters of Administration
  • Administrator's Bond
  • Real estate accounts & sales
  • Affidavits and sworn testimony
  • Receipts including cemetery & funeral home
  • Letters to and from family members
  • Original handwriting & signatures!  
Typically, these files are 10-15 documents in length, but I've certainly seen them be in excess of 100 pages.  As yet, there is not a good representation online of probate files with the exception of some New England states, so researchers will need to either contact the original probate office of record, or view those that can be obtained on microfilm from the Family History Center (FHC).

The Local History department has a hefty collection of Southwest Michigan [Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph & Van Buren] records including probate indexes and files.  Most were obtained on indefinite loan from the FHC and are available to view by visitors to the collection in Decatur.  

All 23 reels of Van Buren County Court Cases, 1846-1912 have been added to the microfilm collection including a case files index.  To view, stop into the Local History department anytime during its regular business hours, or order microfilm into your local FHC branch.  For more information about these records, or how to order other microfilm from the FHC, please contact us.


In our March 15 post, we featured a photograph of Black School, location unknown.  Thanks to our readers, Marlene Robinson & Judy Grime, we now know that this building is located on the corner of Hammond & Three Miles Roads in East Bay Township, near Traverse City in Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle in an October 18, 2008 article indicated that the school had been closed for about 10 years and East Bay Township was considering its purchase. 

 Nameless Picture of the Day
Group of men standing on wagon
Only identification - Charles Dine, front, 5th from left
Judy Grime Collection (Cass & Van Buren Counties)

Can you identify the men in this photograph?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

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