I absolutely love the fact the Ancestry.com added wills and estates to it’s list of sources. It makes my life easier because I don’t have to order wills and estate records from the South Carolina Department of Archives of Archives. Ordering a will or estate record can be very expensive depending on how many pages are in record and time involved in finding the record.
What can wills and estate records tell the researcher? First, they can tell who is in the family. Most wills and estate records have either the wife or son as the executor/administrator. Some wills and estate records have a son in law serving as executor/administrator. Others may have a close family friend serving as executor/administrator. Children and other family members are often listed in wills and estate records as recipients of items in the estate. Children can also be cut out of estates entirely if they were ungrateful or have shamed the family in some way.
Secondly, a researcher can find out who the neighbors of his/her ancestors are from the will or estate record. Neighbors were usually allies through business dealings and intermarriage or they had dealings within the community. A researcher can check the appropriate census record against the will and find out who the neighbors were. I have done that before and it is extremely helpful. I have also checked certain estate records of neighbors and found my ancestor’s name.
Lastly, a researcher can find what occupation his/her ancestor held. Estate records usually have an itemized list of household furnishings, products, tools, etc. If there are animals, cotton, foodstuffs and/or farming tools listed then he was farmer. If an ancestor owned slaves, sometimes the names of slaves are listed in estate records. Most of my ancestors in the early 1800’s were farmers because I found hogs, cow, bales of cotton, corn, reaphook, scythes, and hoes in the estate records.
In conclusion, wills and estate records can hold a variety of information and can possibly help the research solve certain family mysteries.