Genealogists wouldn’t think of overlooking the classified pages in their daily newspaper, especially on the weekend. Newspapers such as the Bangor Daily News run probate notices on Saturdays, an edition which not only sells a lot of copies but is thoroughly read.
The two major categories of items found in probate notices are name changes and appointments of personal representatives for estates of people who have died recently.
Some name changes appear to be requests by people seeking to add a name or drop a name, an action which could be related to a marriage or a divorce or neither of those.
Sometimes a person wants a new middle name, or perhaps a first name or surname that is more Americanized — or more connected to ethnic roots.
Adults may ask to change a child’s name to fit in with the rest of the family, even if the child has not been adopted. Perhaps they are raising the child as their own. Or it may be that a whole family, adults and children alike, are looking to change their last name for a variety of reasons.
Women may decide that not only do they not want to use a husband’s or ex-husband’s last name, but they would rather not use their father’s name either. I’ve seen women take their mom’s maiden name as their own or convert their original middle name to a last name.
I also knew someone who decided to change both her first and last names as a way to choose her own identity.
Occasionally I have seen a request for name changes where the petitioner appeared to be replacing a man’s name with a woman’s name, or a woman’s name with a man’s name. On the one hand, we cannot assume that the choice of a first name indicates whether a person is transgender.
But on the other hand, we know that some people who are raised as one gender may choose to change that gender through legal and medical means.
When Penobscot County Probate Register Susan Almy spoke to the Maine Genealogical Society last fall in Bangor, I asked her whether a person’s change in gender would be reflected on a probate record that granted a name change. She said it would not because it was not the Probate Court’s function to determine that.
Rather, a person who had their gender changed through medical means would seek a new birth certificate after providing documentation to the state.
The other part of probate notices pertains to appointment of personal representatives to estates, informally known as executors. If you read the obituaries every day, you may wonder why you should read probate notices also.
These listings sometimes remind me that I meant to clip and save an obituary. Then I visit the BDN site at bangordailynews.com, put the cursor on Obituaries, then click on Archive/In Memoriam to search for an obituary published in the past few years. I print it off and save it in my records or a scrapbook.
Here’s another reason to peruse the probate notices. Not everybody has a funeral these days, and not everyone has an obituary. If we read these items regularly, we’re sure to come upon notices for people we may not realize have died. Sometimes we can find an obituary by visiting the website of a funeral home in the town where the person lived or died.
Frequently, the personal representative is a relative of the deceased. The address published in the notice may allow us to contact the family, particularly since fewer and fewer people these days have phone numbers and addresses listed in phone books.
Recent probate notices were published May 26 and June 2 in the BDN.
Lastly, if you are going to be a personal representative for someone, relative or otherwise, do make sure that the person’s will is up to date. Doing so will save you a lot of work and will save the estate money.
The Washington County Historical & Genealogical Society has published a newsy issue of its journal, Weirs & Woods.
The Machias Historical Society submitted a successful application to the Department of Agriculture Rural Development for a grant to purchase a large-document scanner. The scanner has been set up in the basement of the Washington County Courthouse and is being used to scan the newspaper collection, with the Eastport Sentinel the first priority.
The scanner also will be used by the Registry of Deeds, which provided matching funds for the grant.
Join the Washington County Historical & Genealogical Society by sending $10 to WCHGS, ℅ Carole Sprague, 301 Ridge Road, Marshfield 04654.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.