How to Find the Children of the Intestate Ancestor

Genealogy Tips by Jeannette Holland Austin

I found the site of this old Smith plantation in Monroe County. Only the chimney remained. However, across the street was a walled cemetery. My removing briars and digging in the dirt revealed the old sunken grave of a relative who died shortly after 1824, a person I had been searching for in census, etc. records. There was no will, deed, etc. found for him anywhere.

Did your relative die without making a last will and testament? That can mean a lot of things. One possibility is that the decedent may have already divided up his properties and this information may be found in the county deed records. The first thing which happens after a death is that an administrator is appointed by the Court of Probate. The administrator’s duty is to post bond (found in probate records) and file Annual Returns every year during which the estate is being administered. The local newspaper publishes notice of the estate for three concurrent weeks. It is a good idea to search the newspapers because if they are selling off the plantation, it will publish “the location”. From there, you acquire a county map and start searching for the old home place which might have a graveyard planted somewhere in the old yard, woods, on even a nearby community church. Thus, locating the old home place is a valuable tool to learning more.

It is frequently difficult to locate the names of the children of persons who died intestate (without a last will and testament naming the heirs). One method is to examine the details of his estate, viz: annual returns, estate sales, vouchers, etc. Another is the deed records. It was and is a common practice to make a "Gift Deed" to the children prior to death. For persons who had small estates, this method was a simple division of different tracts of land to the sons. Other items consisted of furniture and slaves, usually given to the daughters. The Gift Deed is proof of descent. There are many reasons to search the deed records and to take note of the activities. (1) Relatives and in-laws were frequent witnesses to transaction. (2) To determine the period of residency by particular counties. (3) The place of birth of the children can be determined by when and where the ancestor resided. (3) The approximate death date can be determined by the date of the last deed transaction and place of burial. Simultaneously, tracking the ancestor via Tax Digests assists in the same manner, particularly viewing the "names of tax defaulters" because something occurred that year, like a move, or death.

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