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Sample Letters for Genealogical Inquiries

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Lineage Lessons

An administration is normally an estate in which there was no will. The administrator was appointed by the court to handle the estate. Some counties will have a document, called a petition for administration, setting out the name of the heirs and possibly their addresses. It depends on the state and the time period. The administrator's bond is more widely available. This was required as security for the performance of administrative duties in handling the estate. Though the genealogical information on it is less than you will find on a petition, it still provides clues.

Letter writing is a skill that you can master. When you see the high success rate that results by observing a few “rules,” it will encourage you to explore what can be accomplished by mail. The following examples of letters demonstrate the technique of keeping requests simple but to the point. Develop a few letters of your own and save them as templates to use when you write future requests.

Trying to Find a Will

In the first example, you are writing to get some information from an estate. You are hoping that your great-grandfather left a will. But don't limit yourself to requesting the will. If he died without a will and had sufficient property, there still could be an administration. Depending upon the reply to the letter shown below, you can follow up with a request for additional documents.

    [Your name and address]


    Probate Office
    [address here]

    Dear Clerk of the Probate Office:

    I would like to obtain a photocopy of the will of:

    John W. Jorgensen; died 3 March 1842

    If he did not leave a will, I would like to obtain a photocopy of the petition for administration and the administration bond.

    Please let me know the cost for photocopies, and I will send the fee immediately. Enclosed is an SASE.

    Thank you for your assistance.


As you dig deeper, you will find that there are many additional papers involving estates that can help. For now, writing for a will or administration will get you started.

The Obituary

Obituaries are of tremendous value to your search, but obtaining them seems to be a stumbling block. First, determine not only the county but, if possible, also the town or township within the county in which the family lived. The county may have had more than one newspaper; if so, you want to find the one that covered their home community. Then, write to the local library where they lived or the public library of the county seat to see if they have copies or films of the newspapers that they can check.

    Suzy Que
    1111 Apple Blossom Court
    Anywhere, MO 12345-6789

    Public Library
    [address here]

    Dear Librarian:

    I would like to obtain a photocopy of the obituary of:

    Joseph H. Johnson, who died 14 April 1892 in the town of Sunshine.

    [Here include a paragraph as to whether you are enclosing some funds, or “Please let me know the cost and I will remit promptly.”]

    Thank you for your assistance.


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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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