Run All Your Favorite Historical Figures Through This Database of Wills

Illustration for article titled Run All Your Favorite Historical Figures Through This Database of Wills

You can now browse the wills of famous American figures including Paul Revere, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Alexander Hamilton. First person to calculate how many chamberpots total were owned by the signers of the Declaration of Independence gets my undying gratitude.

The AP reports that has digitized millions of American wills and probate records, stretching all the way back to Colonial days. It’s the type of information genealogists salivate over, because this particular type of document is often thoroughly detailed. (Can’t have that treasured heirloom ring going to the back-talking grandchild.) “What you find in probate records and wills are the rich stories about what mattered enough to pass down and a wealth of information about family history,” said the company’s senior manager of research, Jennifer Utley. “They paint a more beautiful picture of people’s lives.”

Those of us who’re a little fuzzy on specifics once you climb higher up the family tree than great-grandma can just run famous names through the search box for a good time. And there’s some interesting stuff, if you look for it. Harriet Beecher Stowe left her son an orange grove, which is a reminder that Harriet Beecher Stowe got really into Florida boosterism. And there’s some very old drama hidden in Paul Revere’s will:

His will reveals some interesting facts — not just about his relationship with his daughter — but about his relationships with his grandchildren, Utley said. They all got $500 in his will, except for one, “who shall have no part of my estate” except for $1, the will says. Exactly what that grandchild did to deserve his famous grandfather’s snub isn’t explained, Utley said, but the will offers clues into Revere’s thinking.


It’s all freely accessible—until Monday, anyway, and if you’re willing to sign up for a free trial.

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Photos via Getty.

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It’s kind of annoying how they have it set up. I do most of my ancestry research from the tree pages. To access the wills information, you have to go back to the home page, realize you need to write down full name, place of death, and death date, go back to your tree to look up the info, write it down, then go back to to home page to search for a will. Dumb.