Sound of mind, weak in body  

    Probate records share the dying wishes of ancestors and
    offer insights into the way of life of past generations.
Ruby M. Cusack
 "Mind your own business, Ruby!" This phrase always seemed to be attached to my name.

If my Dad went off to Hampton and I asked, "Why?" I was told he had gone to take care of some business . . . Cousin Jane's new beau would make a good catch as he had a successful business . . There was going to be a business meeting at the church . . . Business was booming in the States.

Business, business. I was always hearing this word, but I didn't have a clue what it meant. What did this word business mean?

One evening a neighbour dropped in. The conversation was about an elderly gentleman who had died unexpectedly the week before. My little ears perked up, when I heard, "Too bad old Charlie didn't have his business done before he died."

On a positive note, not having taken care of business before death sometimes leaves much information behind for the genealogical researcher. If the person did not make a will, the term was, and still is, that he or she died "intestate." In this case, someone with an interest in the estate could apply for a letter of administration. An administrator was then appointed by the court and this person paid the deceased's debts and settled the estate. In these documents, the names of all heirs are given.

"Being sound of mind but weak in body, I hereby make this my last will and testament," is one of the ways that our ancestors began to write their last wishes. Over the years, I often have heard, "I didn't bother looking in the probates as my relative was not wealthy." Not being rich or not owning property did not keep the folks of yesteryear from writing their last wishes in detail. One lady had only her feather bed and Bible to bequeath to a relative.

The will of Alexander Kilpatrick, of Upham, Kings County, gave great detail of his property and a real insight into his sentiments toward members of the family.

Wills usually state the family relationship, but they may not give names. Often it will state, "to my wife" as everyone knew at that time the wife's name. You may learn the married name of a daughter, as likely they will state the daughter's name and "wife of."

If you do not find the names of all of the children mentioned in the will, this does not mean you are wrong in assuming there were other children. Many reasons could exist, such as the father may have previously given the child his/her share of property or possibly there was a family disagreement and the omission was on purpose.

Some husbands were very concerned about the future provisions for their wives. They left explicit directions to the person who was inheriting the family property. Unmarried daughters were often to be given a cow or sheep or household goods upon their marriage. The division of material possessions or property may give insight of the character of your ancestor.

Very often illegitimate children were provided for, thus giving us a connection in our search that could have been lost to us.

The wealth of information found in probate records is not only of a genealogical nature but reflects the way of life of people of past generations. Take the time to search and carefully study all the available material on the settling of the affairs of your ancestor. The names of the witnesses and executors may also provide clues in your search.

The Probate Court Case File Records include all of the correspondence and testimony dealing with the estate. 

There are microfilm reels of probates in the Saint John Free Public Library at Market Square and at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick in Fredericton as well as at other research institutions. 

R. Wallace Hale compiled the book "Early New Brunswick Probate Records 1785 - 1835" with detailed abstracts of all extant probate records of New Brunswick from 1785 to 1835. The abstracts give residences, occupations, relationships and other items of genealogical interest. The entries are arranged alphabetically by the name of the deceased and there is an index to all names mentioned in the probate. When you are doing your research, you will find this book to be a very helpful source. Information on ordering "Early New Brunswick Probate Records 1785 1835" can be found at   or e-mail R. Wallace Hale at

Reading the last wishes of an ancestor may be as close as we will ever get to really knowing that person.

* *
Queries have been grouped together to cover the year 1998 and can be viewed at

Ruby Cusack is a genealogy buff living in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Readers are invited to send their New Brunswick genealogical queries to Ruby at When E-Mailing please put Yesteryear Families in the Subject line. Please include in the query, your name and postal address as someone reading the newspaper, may have information to share with you but not have access to E-mail. Queries should be no more than 45 words in length.

Return to Index
 Return to   Home of RubyCusack dot com