In her book North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, Helen Leary defines estate as real and personal property that was owned by the deceased. Over the years, I have mentioned estate records in passing, but never really talked about what they are. There are quite a few type of estate records, but they all deal with the division of the estate of someone who has died. Today, I want to talk about the different types of records and the information they may contain as well as were the records are and how you can obtain copies.
First thing to understand with estate records is that the size of the records can vary widely from 1 paragraph to hundreds of pages that span generations. About a year ago, I found an estate record while doing research that was nearly 100 pages in length and spanned 2 generations – all fighting over the division of slaves. The estate record began in the time of slavery and ended well after slavery ended. Although the fighting began about the division of slaves, it ended with fighting about the division of the value of the said slaves! The less arguing over an estate, the shorter it will be. The 1 paragraph estates I’ve seen can be summed up as “[Name]‘s estate has been settled.”