No Death Dates in the Probate File

Many pre-1900 probate records in the United States do not contain the date of death for the person whose estate is being settled. That’s because usually the precise date of death does not matter. It is the fact that the person is deceased that is important.

If someone is petitioning at the May 1850 term of court that an estate be opened for John Smith, the court wants to make certain John Smith is deceased. Whether he died on 1 April 1850 or 29 April 1850 does not matter. That his estate has not already been probated and that he has an estate to probate do matter. The probate record may not mention the date of his death at all, or if it does it may simply state that he died “on or about” a certain date.

The main times that a death date may matter if children are born “too late” to have been children or the date of death somehow impacts the intestate inheritance involved (and usually it does not).

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