Virginia and Maryland Probate Inventories
300+ Transcriptions Recorded 1740 - 1810
Often as part of the process of settling an estate after an individual's death an inventory was taken listing the deceased's personal and chattel property and this was recorded in the county court records.
No probate inventory appears in court records for George Mason of Gunston Hall (1725-1792). The lack of this type of documentation makes it a challenge to understand how Gunston Hall was used and furnished. To get a better sense of what Mason owned, staff at Gunston Hall conducted an extensive study of the possessions owned by people who lived in the proximate time period and region, and who belonged to the upper classes of society. The main sources of this information were the local probate records.
Court records were collected from nearby counties of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford in Virginia and Charles and Prince George's counties in Maryland. To these were added selected records from the Virginia cities of Norfolk and Fredericksburg and the Virginia counties of James City, Elizabeth City, Lancaster, Surrey, Richmond, Frederick, Charles City, Spotsylvania, Middlesex, Westmoreland and York, as well as Anne Arundel County and Annapolis in Maryland. In all, 325 selected inventories were transcribed, and these were compiled into a database that allows searching for individual items.
Gunston Hall partnered with the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University to adapt this database for the general public and publish it on the CHNM website along with teaching guides and images of the original documents. The result is Probing the Past.
Because many of the extensive search features of the original database were not retained in the web version, Gunston Hall has published the full database online for download. This full version allows quick and flexible searches of individual items. For example, it can be used to find and compare inventories containing such items as silver candlesticks or windsor chairs. In addition these searches can be done in combination with categories such as class and gender, as well as urban or rural dwellings.
Download Probate Database (52 MB zip file) — requires Microsoft Access 2000 or later
Database installation, field descriptions, and search examples: http://www.gunstonhall.org/library/probate/guide.pdf
Document Images and Transcriptions
Complete document images and transcriptions for the 325 probate inventories are available on the Probing the Past website: http://chnm.gmu.edu/probateinventory. The transcriptions can also be found on the Gunston Hall website: http://www.gunstonhall.org/library/probate/probate_list.html. To conduct a refined search click here.
Contains detailed instructions on the use of the Gunston Hall Probate Inventory Database. It is recommended that this document be printed for ease of use. http://www.gunstonhall.org/library/probate/manual.pdf
Provides an index of appraisers, creditors, kin, executors and court officials listed in the inventories: http://www.gunstonhall.org/library/probate/namesindex.pdf
A list of entries used to describe items in the DETAIL table of the database. The structure, called the nomenclature, is a three part hierarchy of terms used to place inventoried items into a record. The nomenclature defines Category, Sub-Category, (Sub_Categ) and Type of article, i.e., furniture, seating, chair. The items are further defined by material and color. The List of Entries includes all categories, sub-categories, types, materials, and colors used in the database. This is very useful, not only for understanding the database organization but also in searching for specific items. It is recommended that this document be printed for ease of use. http://www.gunstonhall.org/library/probate/list_entries.pdf
Gunston Hall Plantation Furnishings Plan
The results of Gunston Hall's research into Mason's home and furnishings have been published online as the Room Use Study.
The probate database was made possible by a grant from the Chipstone Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and funding from the Gunston Hall Board of Regents. The online publication of Probing the Past was made possible by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
For researchers and museums who want to use the database structure for their own data collection, we welcome and encourage it. We only ask, as a matter of courtesy, that Gunston Hall is credited.