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Making sense of old handwriting


Probate records are court records that deal with the distribution of a person’s estate after death. Information in probate records may include the deceased person’s death date, occupation, relationships, residences, heirs, and guardians; an inventory of the estate; and names of witnesses.

Wills [testamenten] are one kind of probate record. Anyone of legal age and a sound mind had the right to leave a will. Wills were made primarily by the upper and middle classes. It was popular for a man and his wife to make a mutual will soon after they married. Each one appointed the surviving spouse as the executor of the estate, and sometimes guardians were named for any future born children. Mutual wills made later in life or wills of single people are more informative because they name heirs. Wills were drawn up before either a notary public or before the court of aldermen of the town. In Noord–Holland, Zuid–Holland, and Zeeland it became popular in the 1700s to "seclude" the Orphans’ Chamber Court in the will.

Divisions of estates [boedelscheidingen] are the other most common kind of probate record. These records are also made before either the court of aldermen or a notary public. The records describe the real and personal property of the person that died, name heirs and what they are to inherit, and include accounts for settling the estate.

While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, they must be used with some caution. For example, they may omit the names of deceased family members or those who have previously received an inheritance, the spouse mentioned in a will may not be the parent of the children mentioned, or relationships noted in the records may not have the same meaning today.

Availability of Probate Records

While some separate collections of wills and divisions of estates exist, most are found with other documents of court and notarial records. These records are located in the state, regional, and municipal archives in the Netherlands. Many of the records are on film at the Family History Library.

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Central Will Register [Centraal Testamentenregister]

There is a countrywide card index available at the Ministry of Justice at for those who died after 1890 and left a will. The index is arranged by birth year, so you need to know when your ancestor was born. A less detailed copy of the index is at the General State Archives, in ’s-Gravenhage. The archive’s copy was filmed by the Family History Library on 1,100 rolls of film and contains information about those who died from 1890 to 1973. The index gives the name of the testator and spouse; the person’s birth date and place, occupation, and residence; the date of the will; and the name and residence of the notary public.

This collection is listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Paleography Introduction