Monday, October 5, 2015

3 Reasons You Might Have Trouble Finding Your Ancestors on Ancestry's "Wills and Probate Records"

Over the past couple of days, I've spent some time looking for ancestors and other relatives on Ancestry's new "Wills and Probate Records" series. I was having trouble finding any of my numerous Perry County, Tennessee relatives, so I decided to skip the index and look at the actual records.

Here are the steps I used to get started:
  • Went to
  • Clicked on "Search" then "Card Catalog"
  • For Title, typed in "Probate" and the state's name (in my case, "Tennessee")
  • Clicked on "Tennessee, Wills and Probate Records, 1779-2008"
  • On the right hand side, chose the county (in my case, "Perry")
This gave me three choices:
  • Minutes of Insolvent Estates, 1883-1936
  • Settlements, Guardians, 1865-1913
  • Wills, 1863-1959
REASON #1: The years you're looking for aren't really includedThough the original title said it included "wills and probates" from 1779-2008, for Perry County the records years are much smaller: 1863-1959. (Perry County formed in 1819.)
Next, I opened up the "Wills, 1863-1959" section. At the bottom, there's the filmstrip which you can flip through to see the various subsections. In this "Wills" section, there were three subsections: 
  • Wills, Dec 1863-March 1900
  • Wills, Jan 1892-Nov. 1959
  • Settlements, Guardians', and Admin., June 1877-May 1893
REASON #2: The type of record you're looking for isn't located where you'd expect it to be. In this case, the "Settlements, Guardians', and Admin., June 1877-May 1893" is under the "Wills, 1863-1959" section, and not the "Settlements, Guardians, 1865-1913" section. 

Since each of these subsections is indexed, I looked for my Whitwell surname in each index. Though I didn't find any Whitwells in the two "Wills" sections, I did find three Whitwells in the 3rd section containing settlements, guardians', and administrators.

Index page for Perry County, Tennessee, "Settlements, Guardians', and Admin 1877-May 1893

Though I don't recognize J. R. Whitwell and W. C. Whitwell, I have several possibile matches for Thomas (or Thos.) Whitwell. His records are found on the following pages: 113, 193, 231, 247, 331, 447, [Gdn] 488, 517.

Transcription: A Settlement this day made with Thos. Whitwell
Admr. of P. Whitwell decd.      As follows:

I looked at each page and found the following records:
page 113 - Thos. Whitwell, Administrator of the estate of P. Whitwell, deceased
page 193 - Thos. Whitwell, Administrator of the estate of P. Whitwell, deceased
page 231 - Thos. Whitwell, Administrator of the estate of Geo. G. Sheffield, deceased
page 247 - Thos. Whitwell, Administrator of the estate of G. G. Sheffield, deceased
page 331 - Thos. Whitwell, Administrator of the estate of P. Whitwell, deceased
page 447 - Thos. Whitwell, Guardian of Sallie Sheffield, minor heir of Geo. G. Sheffield, deceased
page 488 - Thos. Whitwell, Guardian of Sallie Sheffield
page 517 - Thomas Whitwell, Guardian of Sallie Sheffield

As you can see, the index is listing the name of the administrator or guardian and NOT the name of the deceased! So, you won't find your deceased relative through this index! (Wow!)

REASON #3: The names indexed are for the administrators or guardians... NOT the deceased! This really surprised me. To find these records, you'd either have to know the name of the administrator or guardian, or actually look at each page.  

As far as these records, who are P. Whitwell and his estate's administrator, Thomas Whitwell? 

P. Whitwell is my 4th great grandfather, Pleasant Whitwell, who died December 20th, 1875 in Perry County. His estate continued to be "settled" for more than 9 years. The last record, on page 447, is from February 1886.

Thomas Whitwell (1826-1901) was Pleasant's son. His daughter, Mary Elizabeth Whitwell (1848-1887) was married to the George G. Sheffield (1848-1881) listed above. The last item, page 517, is from the year 1892. Sallie would've been about 19 years old and the last living minor child of George G. Sheffield and Mary Elizabeth Whitwell.

Do we share common ancestors? If so, I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at


  1. This will be helpful. Thank you for sharing it! I wanted to tell you that I've included your post in my Noteworthy Reads for this week:

    1. Thanks!!! I always enjoy your Noteworthy Reads.


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