HomeHow-ToStartling Delaware Probate Discovery

New Collection Gateway search interface.

It’s not very often that I’m glad I woke up at 4:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep, but this is one of those times. I learned something, entirely by accident, and if you are battling a stubborn Delaware research problem, you’ll want to hear about this.

I’ve posted before about the Collection Gateway, where you can search all of the indexed collections at the Delaware Public Archives in one fell swoop. It’s a pretty nifty search tool. You can also search an individual collection separately. I may have done this in the past, but I’m pretty sure I’ve always used the main search box. This morning, for some unknown reason (probably sleep-deprivation) I clicked on the probate collection. The probate index has been on the site for years, although not in the new format.


It was the old-style search feature that resulted in me owning copies of every Staats estate file from the beginning of time through about 1800. Or at least that’s what I thought until this morning. When I clicked on the probate link on the new gateway, up came an alphabetical listing of all 110,000+ probate files in their collection. The listing was alphabetical by last name, which means the first page was….any guesses?

If you said “A,” you would be wrong. The first page contained probate files that had no indexed last name, just first name, year, and county. So did the next several pages. In fact, there are 439 Delaware probate files that have no surname associated with them in the index. Being the geek that I am, I created a spreadsheet containing the names, sorted them by county and then by date. In New Castle County alone, out of 130 total probate files with no surname, there are over 60 dating between 1684 and 1800. This could be a game-changer in my early Appoquinimink research. Even if it’s not for me, I hope this discovery may help some of you.

The next time I wake up at 4:30am, it had better be to hop in the car and head to Dover to dig into this new find!


I’ve figured out what has happened here. By going back to the old search and searching by first name and year, I am finding all the surnames that aren’t listed in the new search. In each case, the old-search result has an alternate spelling for the surname in parenthesis within the surname field. Apparently, any record with the parenthesis in the surname field returns that record as having no associated surname.

For example here is a new search result: FIrst name = “Elisha”, no surname, year=”1747″, and is in New Castle County. Going back to the old search and searching for “Elisha” and “1747” gives this result:

Name Date Race Location
Rogers (Rodgersk), Elisha 1747 New Castle County

Having searched for about 10 others, each returning parentheses in the surname field can only lead me to assume that the results in the new search with no surnames are a database/front-end error. While not quite as exciting as I had hoped. There is still some value here. Searching for the alternate spellings inside the parenthesis still yield no results – even on the old search. So there may be names that you’ve searched for and not found that may actually be lurking between those parenthesis as an alternate spelling.


Startling Delaware Probate Discovery — 2 Comments

    • They ARE indexed, but not in any way that I really would have thought to search. Even though I try and do this regularly, it’s a good reminder to search every which way you can. I just double-checked the old probate search function, and none of the first-name only files come up using that in terface. So at least I haven’t been missing out on this for years…only months 🙂