01 January 2014

Probate Records Part 1: Guardianships

     I've spent a lot of time the past 12 months reading through probate records. I find it interesting the the causes generating probate records can be different whether in Indian Territory or Oklahoma Territory. I will address this in detail in a later post.

     There are three main types of probate records: Administration of Estate, Probate of Will, and Guardianship. Another, less common one, is Adoption.

     It has always been obvious to me that the first two types of records are probates, but I never really understood how Guardianship records were "probate" records.

     As I understand it now, reading through thousands of these records, a guardian is appointed to protect the legal interests (estate) of, usually, a minor. Since a minor legally cannot enter into a contract, a guardian is appointed to conduct business for the minor.

     In Indian Territory, guardianships were needed for the majority of enrolled Indian minors. These under age Indians were allotted land, and when it came time to sell or lease the land, the minors could not legally do that. So a guardian had to be appointed to dispose of (sell) the land or lease the land (farm leasing and oil/gas leasing).

     So when you see a guardianship record, DO NOT assume that the minors listed have deceased parents.

     Similarly in Oklahoma Territory, many of the guardianship records were for children who inherited land or money from a relative. For the minor to do anything with the inherited estate, a guardian was appointed as the legal representative of the minor. These records often list the names of the parents and other relatives.

     There are also what I always thought a guardianship was: the parent(s) of a child died and someone was appointed by the court to look after the best interests of and raise the child.

     Another type of guardianship I have seen is when a guardian is appointed for an incompetent person. In reading obituaries of elderly persons who also had guardians appointed for them, I would bet the incompetent persons had old age dementia or Alzheimer's.

     Don't overlook the Guardianship as a valuable genealogical record. It will often give the ages or birth dates of the minors, list the names of the parents and other relatives living in the county that could care for the minors, and give the names and locations of those from whom the minors inherited property. For those with Indian ancestry, these records could be the most valuable record you have missed!