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Source Information

Ancestry.com. Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Estate Papers, 1714-1838 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
Original data:

Pennsylvania. Chester County. Estate Papers, 1700–1820. Gale Cengage Learning. Microfilm, 85 rolls. Chester County Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

About Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Estate Papers, 1714-1838

This database contains estate papers from the Orphans’ Court of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Records include inventory lists, petitions, court orders, letters, and other documents pertaining to an individual's estate. The records were originally microfilmed in 1976 in a joint effort of the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library, the Bishop Mill Historical Institute, and the Chester County Historical Society.

These records will typically have multiple images associated with each file. Be sure to explore all of the records in the file by browsing forward and backward.

Historical Background

Chester County was formed in 1682 as one of the original counties created by William Penn in Pennsylvania. In 1729, Lancaster County was formed from part of Chester County, and in 1752, Berks County split off from the northern section. Now home to such historical sites as Valley Forge National Historical Park, Chester lies just southwest of Philadelphia. The states of Delaware and Maryland also border southern Chester County.

Using Probate Records

Probate records can provide an intimate glimpse into the lifestyle of an ancestor and specific facts about a family. From wills you can discover how often the men on your pedigree entrusted their assets to a wife, whether all sons inherited equally, how the daughters fared in comparison, whether a man distributed his property to his children before his death, and who was instructed to care for the widow and younger children or for incapacitated or handicapped family members. Servants were sometimes released by will and slaves freed.

What provision was made for the widow? Was firewood delivered to her door? Were living quarters and a cash allowance for needed purchases provided? Did the allowance end on remarriage? What was to happen to her portion of the estate if she remarried?

What are the demographics of your family? Who lived in the household? What was the ratio of adults to children, males to females? Did the men live to see their grandchildren? Did the women outlive the men? How many children reached adulthood before their parents died? What were the sizes of your family units? What standard of living did your family have? Did they read and write? Did a bequest include paintings, a family Bible, fine furniture, a carriage, or musical instruments?

Also revealed in a will is biographical information: title, occupation, religious affiliation, age, place of residence, place of property ownership, associates of the family, and relationship to prominent families in the area.

Did your ancestor bequeath assets to charities, such as schools, hospitals, and churches? Did he make a contribution for the upkeep of roads and bridges? Did she support a political party?

How did your ancestor speak? Indications of local dialect and pronunciation can be found in spelling variants, especially when a will is a holograph. It can also reveal personality, character, and level of formal education.

The probate inventory gives other insights into your family's life and how your family compared to others in the community. If items are listed room by room and the rooms labeled, you know who slept where. A man was often judged by the kind of bed he slept in, so inventories usually listed bed and bedding in considerable detail: bed curtains imply a canopied bed to keep out cold drafts. Featherbeds, sheets, coverlets, blankets, and spreads may also be listed separately.

From Luebking, Sandra Hargreaves; Loretto D. Szucs; and Arlene H. Eakle. “Court Records.” Szucs, Loretto D., and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. 3d ed. Provo, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 2006.

For more information, see the Ancestry.com Wiki section on Probates.