I was searching for more information on my ancestor John Robinson. I knew his date of death was 1876 and he died in Balmain. However I was keen to find out what other information I might get from his will and probate information. I was very excited to see what the State Records of NSW might have as they had quite a number of avenues to search through. I found a probate packet and ordered it. I was very excited to see what I might find. But then I was told that all of that information was on the find my past website. I was a bit annoyed at having paid $30 for a probate packet when I could get the same information for $12.95 in my 100 credits I had paid for. I wondered what I had actually paid for and whether there was more to NSW probate and will information then what find my past had to give. So my search to narrow down what information is where I began.
What is probate?
A person can make a will, but to proceed a will must be proven to be genuine and the executors then have the right to represent the estate. When this is proven the executor in the will be granted probate. Once they are granted probate they are able to deal with the estate by for example taking stock of all assets and dividing and transferring them according to the will and also paying any debts like stamp duties/death duties. If a person dies without a will, a eligible heir can apply for a grant of probate and the court will issue a letter of administration.
So what is the difference between what find my past has and what the NSW State Records holds?
Find my past has will books. The will books cover copies of wills that were handwritten before 1924 and typed wills for between 1924 to 1952. The information usually contained in the will books can include your ancestors: name, address, occupation, beneficiaries and details on their estate. This covers the records under NRS 13661 at the NSW State records. So a will goes into the probate packet , also held by the NSW State Records. This means that you only have the will’s information. If there are other documents in the probate packet they are not included. NSW State records confirmed that when I emailed about cancelling my order – ” Please note that with our copy service you receive the whole probate packet (not just the will) that can include – letters of administration, inventory of assets, division of estate, death certificate and other correspondence relating to the granting of probate.”
NSW State records hold a lot more information than will books. As well as probate packets, they also hold deceased estate files and intestate estate case papers.
Probate Packets not only contain the will but can also include the death certificate, inventory of assets, letters of administration and other affidavit’s and correspondence relating to probate. The probate packets held at the Western Sydney office of NSW State records covers 1880 to 1958. To check if your ancestor has a probate packet, use the archives investigator on the NSW State records website and type in the name of your ancestor and death. You can then either order a photocopy or go out to the Western Sydney reading rooms to examine the probate packet.
Deceased Estate files covers the collection of death duties. According to NSW State Records about 90% of people that are in the probate index have deceased estate files. No probate or letters of administration could go ahead without the death duty paid. The Stamp Duties office created a file for every person who died that had property or other assets that a death duty would be applied to. The files cover from 1880 to 1958. A deceased estate file can include a cover sheet with all the deceased’s details, calculations of duty, correspondence from solicitors about estate assets, valuations of properties owned, schedules of furniture and possessions, transcripts from courts, balance sheets of businesses owned.
Curator of intestate estates was created in 1847, before that time trusteeship for intestate estates was the responsibility of the Court of Civil Jurisdiction. The Curator of Intestate estate is now what we call the Public Trustee. All of these organisations essentially worked to pay the duties owed by the estate and then administer the estate. There are a number of different types of documents available and they include case papers showing amounts of money that were owed by the deceased and paid to creditors and letters to obtain information about intestate estates.
I guess what I learned about this all is that although a large amount of information can be found of the internet; there is still a great deal of information that is nowhere near being there. I think just accepting what is on subscription websites as all that there can be can mean that you miss value little pieces in your family history. If I would have taken findmypast information, I would have only known that my John Robinson had 350 pounds to his name when he died. But digging into his probate packet I know that he also had three creditors that were owed a lot more than that. Lol. And if I had not looked I would not know for sure that I have all his children and wives listed and spelt correctly from his papers. Make sure that you make time to go to the source of the information as it can be worth the time and effort.