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My passion is genealogy and family history. I host a podcast about Australian family history, Genies Down Under. In my day job, I work as a lecturer and a researcher in higher education, teaching pre-service teachers.

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Probates are great, mate

On Monday, I went along to the Kingswood Western Sydney Records Centre (http://www.records.nsw.gov.au) to check out a few probate records of some of my ancestors. The online index helps to locate the existence and numbers of these records (http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-online#p).

I can thoroughly recommend other NSW researchers to make a visit to this centre if possible. The staff are very helpful to people who haven't visited the centre before. I heard many visitors saying things like "I have no idea what I am doing" and "Can you help me? I don't know where to start." One of the most valuable aspects of the visit was the opportunity to see and touch (with gloves on) some original records.

Back to the probate records ... I was overwhelmed by the detail in these records or "packets" as they are known (see the diagram below for an example).

I accessed about 6 or 7 of these records and was very pleased when I opened each one up. One probate packet even contained a full death certificate. Another visitor I spoke to at the centre told me that she had recently accessed a probate packet that contained 10 various birth, death and marriage certificates. While some probate records were quite short (4 pages long), others contained up to 50 pages. While some of these pages were often repetitive, many pages outlined valuable information about the family's interests and correspondence. Many probate packets contained handwritten information.

While you can take photographs (without the flash) of the records you access at this centre, it is quite difficult to take photographs of the papers found in probate packets because they have been folded three of four times. This can make the papers difficult to flatten out on a table. In these cases, I'd recommend that you request photocopies (45c per sheet).

If you'd like to prepare for your visit to the centre, you can make an online request of up to four probate packets before you get to the centre. See the online forms for pre-ordering records (http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/use-the-archives/getting-started/visit-us/visit-us#pre-order-records).

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