After going online to check out digitized probate records of Maine counties, you may observe, “But these are fairly recent.” And they are.
But be hopeful that information available may expand with older records over time. Volunteers are working to help with earlier records in some counties.
The website you want to know is www.maineprobate.net, which allows you to search by one county or statewide.
In Aroostook County, I found wills going back at least until 2001. You can bet that lawyers in that large tract of land appreciate being able to file materials online rather than drive many miles to the courthouse.
I found name changes in Penobscot County going back to 1994, but not the whole record available. However, information did specify the dates of publication in the newspaper, which often was the Bangor Daily News.
The BDN is on microfilm at Bangor Public Library, Maine State Library, University of Maine Public Library and other libraries in Maine. Look for name changes and notices of those seeking to be personal representatives for estates in the Classified pages.
Estates, guardianships and name changes are generally the records one will find in probate records that have been digitized and put online.
Not included are adoption records, which have not been public according to state law in 1953.
Looking at records online is free. Printing them off costs by the page.
What might estate materials tell us? We can hope that lots of relatives might be listed in wills, and often we find that the personal representative — once known as the executor — is a relative.
In some counties, you may find that some wills and estates were transferred to another county. What’s up with that?
Don’t be concerned. This happens, for example, when the lawyer who drew up the will is also the probate judge in that county. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, or appearance of one, the lawyer’s firm will ask to transfer the estate to another county.
BDN reporter Judy Harrison wrote an article about the digitization of probate records on Christmas Day 2013, and you may read the story online at http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/25/news/bangor/probate-courts-first-in-state-to-go-digital-put-records-online/?ref=search
Here is another way to find information. Several libraries have the CD Finding Aid for files and accounts for Washington County, 1791-1979, which are materials you might want to look at when you go to the Washington County Courthouse in Machias.
And of course, there is still a good amount of probate record information available in books at various libraries. Among these are:
– “Abstracts of Penobscot County Maine Probate Records 1816-1883,” edited by Ruth Gray. Gray and the late Marjorie Marsh Quigg spent years going through Penobscot County probate records to gather information for these abstracts. The information includes abstracts of records from that portion of Hancock County that was set off to Penobscot County in 1816. This resource is available at Bangor Public Library, Maine State Library, Special Collections at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library in Orono, Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport and Portland Public Library.
– “Probate Records of Lincoln County, Maine: 1760-1800,” by William D. Patterson, Maine State Library, Special Collections at Fogler Library, Maine Historical Society in Portland, Penobscot Marine Museum and public libraries in Gray, Bar Harbor, Old Town, Portland and Westbrook.
– “Index to Probate Records for the County of York, 1900-1917,” Maine State Library.
– “Probate Records for Essex County, Massachusetts,” 1635-1681, published by Essex Institute, Bangor Public Library, Maine State Library, University of Maine Law School.
For more probate records, check ursus.maine.edu for resources in URSUS libraries. Listings include a MaineCat icon so you can check for availability in other Maine libraries that participate in MaineCat.
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.