Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Lawrence Friedman, Christopher Walker, and Ben Hernandez-Stern have posted "The Inheritance Process in San Bernardino County, California, 1964: A Research Note" on ssrn. Here is their abstract:
Probate records are ubiquitous. Virtually every American county has records of estates of the dead. These records contain rich source material for any study of American legal and social history. They have a lot to tell us about family life, about the economy, about love and death and every aspect of life in America. Yet very few scholars have tried to tap these records. There are very few empirical studies that use as their main source probate records, probably no more than a dozen or so, and even fewer in California. This research note is a modest attempt to add to the stock of knowledge, and to document some basic facts about the probate system at work in one place and at one time (San Bernardino, California, 1964). We analyze 513 probate records - both intestate and testate proceedings - of decedents who died in 1964 and whose probate proceedings took place in San Bernardino County, California.
Part I of this article provides a brief historical background on San Bernardino County and the state of probate law in California in the 1960s. Part II then describes the research methodology: the sample, the data collection process, and the typical testate and intestate files. Part III outlines the findings of this research, both with respect to intestate and testate proceedings, followed by some concluding remarks.
It's forthcoming in the Houston Law Review. As dedicated propertyprof readers will recall, I'm a fan of the Houston Law Review.
This is an important guide to the kinds of evidence we can extract from probate records.And if you like that, keep on the look-out for a really terrific student note on wills probated in Marengo County, Alabama in the 1830s and 1840s, which is coming out next year in the Alabama Law Review. It looks to similar questions as Friedman and company, as well as a few different questions. The questions studied include: what are the demographic characteristics of the people who employed wills, who receives property, and how are slaves treated in the wills. You might also be interested in Jeffrey A. Schoenblum's empirical study of will contests in Davidson County, Tennessee.
Endnote: The image is from our friends at the Library of Congress' Historic Buildings Survey.