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Probate Court

Probate Courtdocuments can provide much in the way of clues for researchers. A Probate Court was established by the legislative authority of the Northwest Territory. However, it was abolished by the Constitution of 1802. Between 1802 and 1851, when another constitution was adopted, each county in Ohio was required to establish a probate court.

Probate court records include wills, estates, guardianship, and naturalization records. Occasionally, a stray adoption record may appear.

Wills and Estates

Not everyone who died left a will. When a will was not written, then the individual is said to have died intestate.

There are times when wills are recorded in the land deeds. A list of some of these can be found in the front of the book, Index to Wayne County, OH Probate Court Records 1812-1917. They can also be found in the land deed index under Will as the last name and Testament as the given name.

Estate papers should be carefully evaluated. Estate papers may include receipts where the heirs have received payment. When a daughter was left money, in most cases the husband of the daughter also signs the receipt. This can provide valuable information about who the daughter married. When the son was left money, very seldom is his wife listed. Other documents included in the estate papers may give information on the residence of the heirs. Sale of bill lists may give clues. Many times there was a crying sale (also known as an auction) in which the property was liquidated to pay bills. The sale of bill includes the item purchased and the name of the individual who purchased the item. Those in attendance of a crying sale may be neighbors, friends and family – many of the same people who are related or may have married into the family at a later date. Information in the estate papers may give clues to whether the deceased had a marker, the size of the coffin, doctor bill notes (invoices), and numerous other documents that may give some insight into the family.

Estate packets vary in size. Some may be as small as 2-3 documents where others may be as lengthy as 150 + pages. When making copies for researchers, check with the researcher to determine if he or she would like the complete file or only a partial file. If the complete file is requested, inform the researcher of the approximate cost of the packet.


Early guardianships are often misunderstood by amateur researchers. Many believe guardianships were granted because both parents were deceased. This is not the case. When a wife was left a widow, many times she was not comfortable or was not able to be financially responsible for the child or children. A family member, close friend, or respected citizen of the community would assume the role as the guardian for the child or children to oversee the financial needs of the child or children. They would pay for school supplies, classes, clothing, and other immediate needs. When the children would turn 14 or 15, they could request to have a different guardian appointed. Usually, the guardianship would last until the female turned 18 or was married and the male turned 21.

Guardianships not only applied to children. Many times the children would appoint a guardian for their parents when they believed the parents were unable to oversee their own financial affairs. Guardianships were issued for the insane, too.

Insanity was a very broad term used in the 19th and early 20th century. It could be a legitimate insane individual. It could be someone who was depressed or had some other mental or physical illness. Or the children may have sought a doctor to diagnose their parent as insane because they did not want to be bothered by them any more.

Several resources are available to assist in the location of Probate Court records. Index to Wayne County, OH Probate Records 1812-1917 volume 1 and Index to Wayne County, OH Probate Records 1918-1937 volume 2 are an alphabetical index to the Probate file number. File numbers that include a letter and number date 1851 and before. The letter is the first letter of the surname. The other file numbers are anywhere from 1 to 5 digits. Our department has the Probate Court files through #23,669. Two numbers are on the box lid. Find the Probate Court file number between the two numbers given.

In these two indexes, some additional clues are provided. Some entries have birth dates while others have death dates. If there is an “X” there is a will on file. The letter “N” indicates it is a naturalization record. (Refer to chapter 12 for more information on naturalization records.) The letter “G” indicates it is a guardianship. If you only see dots, then it is an estate. At times, you will see the notation “insane” or “adoption” in the right column.

To assist further with determining whether the entry is the individual being researched, there are two additional books: Will Abstracts, Estates and Guardianships: Wayne Co, OH 1812-1851 and Index to Wills and Estates in Wayne Co, OH 1852-1900.

In Will Abstracts, Estates and Guardianships Wayne County, Ohio 1812-1851, there is a master index in the front of the book. This includes the name of the individual and whether the record is a will (w), estates (e), or guardianship (g). Beginning on page 35, there is an index to the wills. The name of the individual and page number is listed. The index follows the will abstracts. Refer to the beginning of the book to gain a better understanding of how to read the will abstracts. The index to the estate records begin on page 78. The name of the individual and the number is given. The number refers to the left most number in the abstract. These numbers are in numerical order. The index follows the estate abstracts. The index to guardianships begins on page 128. Similar to the estate index, the name of the individual and the number is given. The number is the left most number in the abstract. The numbers are in numerical order.

Although the cover of the book titles the book, Will Abstracts, Estates and Guardianships Wayne County, Ohio 1852-1900 and the title page titles the book, Index to Wills and Estates in Wayne County, Ohio 1852-1900, the book includes abstracts of wills and guardianship only. Part 1 includes an index to the wills and estates. In the left most column, the last two digits of the year is given. It is followed by a “w” for will or an “e” for estate. The name is given in the next column. The third column includes the file number for the record. These can be found on microfilm. The last column indicates the original volume. “W” represents “Will Book” the number represents the volume number. The numbers following the hyphen is the page number of the original source. “J” would represent Journal. We do not have the original journals in our collection. The number next to the “J” represents the volume number and the number following the hyphen is the page number. The names with a “W” next to them can be found in the book beginning on page 80, or part 3 of the book. The abstracts in each will book are found separately. They are in numerical order within each book by the page number. See the introduction of the book to gain a better understanding of how to read the abstract. Part 2 of the book includes an abstract of the guardianship. These are listed between pages 46 and 79. They are listed in alphabetical order by the parent’s last name. The left most column includes the year of the guardianship. The number following the pound sign is the file number which can be found on the microfilm in the department. The final name given in the abstract is generally the guardian. The letter “J” refers to the original journal with the adjacent number being the page number. The numbers following the hyphen are the page numbers in the original journal.

Final Records

Final Records were recorded in Wayne County, OH Probate Court beginning in 1852. The Ohio Constitution of 1851 removed probate jurisdiction from the Court of Common Pleas and created a separate Probate Court in each county.

The Final Records recorded in Wayne County, OH include court documents pertaining to real estate. These include but are not limited to the following: petition to sell real estate or land, notice of sale of land, application to appropriate land (e.g. for the railroad), appropriation of real estate or land, petition to complete contracts (relating to real estate), formation of county roads, etc. Many times, the petition to sell the land or real estate is being made by the guardian of the minor children. All the minor children are listed. On the rare occasion, you may find an adoption, antenuptial record, or other such documents in the Final Records.

Our department has the Final Records dating from 1852 to 1919. They are indexed, but the index is not an every name index. These are different from the wills, estates, and guardianships recorded in the Probate Court files.

Common Pleas Court

Supreme Court

Criminal and civil cases were normally tried in the Supreme Court in the early years of Ohio court history. Prior to 1843, divorces were recorded in the Supreme Court.

Our department has one reel of microfilm for the Supreme Court dockets. The reel includes volumes 1-3 covering the years 1813-1852. There is an index available in the front of the volumes 1 and 3. There is no index for volume 2. The index is organized by the first letter of the surname of the plaintiff. The name of the defendant is given as well as the page number included on the microfilm. The defendants’ names are not indexed. Some of the entries go on for pages, including much detail for researchers to read through.


In February 1810, the Ohio law gave chancery jurisdiction to the Common Pleas Courts in general. When the title to land was in question, or when the sum in dispute exceeded $1,000 the Supreme Court had jurisdiction concurrently with Chancery.

Chancery papers usually involve a dispute between two or more parties. They may involve dispute over land, personal property, spousal support, or divorces.

Our department had three reels of Chancery records. The first reel includes volumes 5, 8, and 11 and includes the years 1817-1841. The second reel includes volumes 13 and 15, including the years 1841-1846. The final reel includes volumes 18 and 19 and covers the years 1846-1849.

Not all volumes are indexed. Many of the entries include many pages.

We do have an index to some of the Chancery Court Records.


These documents usually give a more detailed description of what took place during a case that was being tried. The Common Pleas Court had criminal jurisdiction extending to “all crimes, offenses and misdemeanors, the punishment whereof is not capital…” (page 369, volume II of History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio by Carrington T. Marshall, published in 1934). Simply stated, the Common Pleas Court had administration of civil and criminal justice.

There are six reels of Common Pleas Court Journals in our department’s collection.

Reel # Volumes Dates
1 1, 2, & 3 1818-1826
2 4, 6 1827-1836
3 7A, 7B, 8, 10 1836-1843
4 11, 12 1843-1846
5 13, 14, 15 1846-1850
6 16, 17, 18 1850-1852

The Common Pleas Journals are indexed by the first letter of the surname. Entries may include but are not limited to detailed summaries of suits; action taken in suits; citizenship papers; and licenses for taverns, merchandising, and ministers.

In the book, Wayne County, Ohio Abstracts of Naturalization Records 1812-1903, the first 34 pages include journal numbers and the page number to each of the naturalization or declaration of intention papers. These journal numbers and page number refer to the Common Pleas Journal reels of microfilm. Those Journals after volume number 18 can be found at the Administration Building in the Microfilm Office and Services Department.

Appearance Dockets

Theses court documents served as a calendar of cases to be tried in a specified term. They are not organized by name. Rather, they are organized in the order the case is to be heard. Within each term, they are organized by the first letter of the Plaintiff’s surname. The names of both the Plaintiff and the Defendant are given in addition to the page number. There is no index for the Defendants’ names. Some volumes do not include an index.

Entries in the Appearance Dockets are not complete, detailed accounts of particular cases. Rather, it includes a brief entry about the crime. Some entries include the following:

  • Capias [summons] Indictment
  • Capias Assault and Battery
  • Capias Larceny
  • Capias Damages
  • Capias Debt
  • Trespassing Summons
  • Notices of Appeals

In some entries, the dollar amount of bail is listed.

General Index

On microfilm, we have the Wayne County Common Pleas Court General Index 1817-1874. It is unknown which volumes this index refers to. It could be to the original books located at the courthouse. It is known that the General Index in our collection does not respond to any of the Common Pleas Court records we house in our collection. Information in the index includes: month and year of term, plaintiff’s name, defendant’s name, record (book, page), and exec. (book, page).

The Common Pleas Court Records are not indexed very well. Many of the pages include just the two parties’ names and no detailed information. Other pages may provide names and family connections. They are a time consuming resource but could be a treasure trove for some researchers.

One of our volunteers has started to index the Common Pleas Court records. She has started with the Chancery records. A couple years ago, a self-publisher borrowed our department’s reel of Supreme Court records. She abstracted the information but has not published the book. Eventually, it is the goal of our department to have an every name index for all reels of the Common Pleas Court records.


  • Ohio-Wayne-Court
    • “Additions and Corrections to the 1st 5,000 packets…Probate Court Records”
    • “Additions and Corrections to the Common Pleas Court 1818-1852”

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