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Genealogical Research

An overview of resources available at Swem Library for Genealogists along with ideas for other places to conduct research in the area.

About Wills and Probate Records

In October 1776, entail (definition 2) was abolished, which prohibiting the automatic passing of estates through multiple generations, and on January 1, 1787, after the revolution, the English system of primogeniture was ended in Virginia. These two events affected the content of wills and probate records.  Under primogeniture, Virginia wills may not always name the wife or the eldest son of the deceased. The inheritance of real estate was set by law, with the widow receiving one-third share for her lifetime and the eldest son receiving the remaining two-thirds share unless otherwise specified in the father’s will.  After the Revolutionary War, when Virginia’s general inheritance law took effect, all heirs inherited equally. After a will was proved, the executor of the estate was bonded to carry out his or her duties to settle the estate, and the court then ordered the will to be recorded. Wills, inventories, appraisals, estate accounts, and divisions of estates were usually recorded in a volume called a “Will Book.” In the seventeenth century, some counties recorded wills, and other records in a volume called a “Record Book” or a “Great Book.” For more on these type of records, please see the Library of Virginia's site on “Using County and City Court Records.”

Compilations of Virginia Wills and Probates

Some of these volumes might have additional copies available for check out in the general collection upstairs. Check links to see availability.