Using Guardianship Records

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Have you ever come across guardianship records inyour genealogical research? And by the way, do you know what a guardianshiprecord is? Specifically, they are a type of court record that is oftenunder-used in genealogical research. In addition, many of these records arenot available online so a large percentage of people do not know aboutthem and an even larger percentage do not know how to use them.

The most common reason for the creation ofguardianship records is the death of a parent, and most generally, the father.Before women were given full legal status, minor children were consideredorphans if their father had died. A male guardian was required to oversee thefinancial interests of all minor children. Often, the male guardian was anuncle or an older sibling who had already reached his majority. However, afamilial relationship was not required. It was the responsibility of theguardian to manage their ward’s financial interests until they reached fulllegal age. Most guardians were required to make annual financial statements tothe court and these records can provide a goldmine of information.

While most guardianship records do not state therelationship between the minor child and the guardian, they usually state therelationship between the minor child and the deceased parent. This can be agreat way to establish relationships, especially when other vital recordscannot be found. Guardianship records can also establish the estimated age ofthe child. In most states, minor children under the age of fourteen wereassigned a guardian. Children over the age of fourteen were allowed to choosetheir own guardian. Likewise, children reached their majority when they turnedtwenty-one years of age in most states. Generally, the guardianship records indicate when a child reached majority and received finalpayments or took over his or her own interests.

Another reason for creating guardianship records is when a child s left a legacy by someone other than a parent. Some statesallow parents to act in the interest of their children, but others do not. Inthe case of Ruth Wilcoxon Higgins of Montgomery County, Maryland, she was lefta legacy by her maternal grandfather, John Wilcoxon, when he died in 1799. Ruthreceived this legacy because her mother died in 1798 before her father, JohnWilcoxon. Ruth inherited her mother’s portion of her grandfather’s estate. Ruthwas a minor when her grandfather died, so her father, James B. Higgins, wasappointed her guardian.

If you have an ancestor that died with youngchildren, it is likely that guardianship records exist for those children. Itdoes not matter if your ancestor had a will or not, the appointment of aguardian was required for all minor children. 

Accessing these records can be achallenge, since many are not found online, and depending on the jurisdiction,the records may be difficult to track down. Hiring will enable you to benefit from the knowledge of local researchers in specific localities andcourt jurisdictions as well as be able to access local court houses and repositories.  As a result, guardianship records might be the best way to jump start your brick wall research.

by Deborah Sweeney © 2015,, All rights reserved

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February 21, 2015
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