Those Elusive Earlier Maryland Records – Particularly Wills

I have spent a great deal of time recently in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  Not physically, of course, although I do hope to visit Maryland one day.  That’s the pleasant reality of having online resources, through photographs and information archives.  Ritchey’s Prather family are from the county, as well as my Elder family, among others.  And I have recently researched for a friend who has ancestors from the area.

Through study I have found that Maryland’s history of county formation is a crazy mess.  Years ago, I bought the program AniMap Plus.  It’s been so long ago that I can’t remember when – but I do remember I was at a genealogy conference!  This is such a fantastic program – click on the state of your choice and you can see the progression of county formation through the years.  The map changes as you click on one year to another, and information is visible in a side box that tells what happened during a particular year.  For example, let’s click on Maryland. 

The first information is for 1637 and says St. Mary’s was created as an original county.  There is an outline of the state of Maryland as we know it today, the white portion shows the county of St. Mary’s, and a dotted portion shows the area not included in settlement in the year 1637. 

The next year choice is 1642, evidently there were no county changes during the five previous years.  Click on 1642 and it shows the area of St. Mary’s County has now been divided into St. Mary’s and Kent counties.  And in the box, it says Kent from St. Mary’s 1642.  The dotted portion is still where it was in 1637 and is still unused land.

1650 is the next county change in Maryland.  St. Mary’s County has been diminished to a smaller portion and the counties of Charles and Anne Arundel have been carved from St. Mary’s – but a tiny sliver of what was once the original county is now a dotted portion.  That was considered county land the year before.

In 1654 everything changes!  Kent remains a county, but St. Mary’s name is changed to Potomac County, Charles County is abolished and becomes Patuxent County and Anne Arundel County is changed to Providence County.  Seriously?  My thought, what happened to those county records? 

But four years later names are changed back – somewhat.  Potomac becomes St. Mary’s again; Charles County formed from part of Potomac (St. Mary’s); Patuxent changed to Calvert County and Providence changed back to Anne Arundel.  Who thought life was simple in the early colonies?

If you would like to own this program go to https://goldbug.com/animap/. There is much more this program can do other than county formation!

Now let’s talk a bit about those early Maryland wills.

My favorite place to search for wills from Maryland is at www.familysearch.org.  And it is free!  You create a log in, just a username and password. 

Once into Family Search, at the top of the page click on Search, then Records. 

You might have to scroll down a bit to Find a Collection.  In the box marked Collection Title, start typing Maryland Wills – it will bring up a box that says Maryland Register of Wills, 1629-1999.  Click on that. 

There is a box that says, ‘How to use this collection’ and one that says ‘Browse all 1,933,787 images’.  Daunting as it may seem, click on the million plus images. 

Not so bad!  Now you have a choice 23 counties to search.  Since we have talked about Prince George’s County, let’s start there – click one more time. 

There is a wealth of information for Prince George’s County in the record of wills, and, I will admit, most I have not ventured into yet.  I usually head to the end where it has wills.  If you click on Will Index 1698-1948 you have the opportunity to check any will that may be in Prince George’s County during those years. 

Let’s look for Thomas Prather – one of Ritchey’s ancestors.  Notice there are 305 pages in this index book.  Prather is past the halfway mark so type in 175.  Just in the L’s. 

Type in 225, which puts us in the middle of the P’s.  One important item to note.  The listings are alphabetized by first letter of last name, then under the first letter of the Christian name.  Therefore, for Thomas Prather we go to ‘P’, then under that to those individuals who have a first name that begins with ‘T’.  It seems a bit strange at first, but it does make sense. 

So, image 230 shows as the second person on the page, Thomas Prather, whose will is in No. 1, Folio 57.  This is a bit like hide and seek – but you will be rewarded in the end when you find you ancestor’s will. Remember we are in the will index – which shows just above the image.  Click on Prince George’s and it will take us back to the list of wills. 

Since I know Thomas Prather died about 1711, click on Wills 1698.  Put 30 in for the image number (depends on what page the will is on – we know Thomas Prather’s will is on page 57).  Look at the page numbers at the top – 46 and 47.

Click on the ‘greater than’ symbol to go to the next page until you find page 57, where Prather’s will begins – 5 clicks.  Use your cursor to enlarge enough to read the lovely, old handwriting. 

Thomas Prather’s will is at the bottom of the page and continues on page 58. 

You can download the pages by clicking on the symbol from the top right hand page and save to your computer.

Did I explain this well enough? It’s something I do every day and I’m sure I take much for granted. I will be happy to answer any questions. If you would like to see the two-page will of Thomas Prather click here: https://kentuckykindredgenealogy.com/2020/06/28/ritcheys-prather-line-to-his-9th-great-grandfather/


7 replies »

  1. Phyliss , you are a teacher at heart. So much good information and very well explained. Thanks.

  2. You have done it again, my friend; providing amazing information for your followers to use in their quest of family ancestors. Every time I see your posts, I smile and reflect on that period of time I got to know you. I will be forever grateful for your expertise and dedication in procuring information, especially that last piece of documentation, needed for my DAR. Thank you for all you do for the genealogical community. Best to you always.

  3. That is a great post! Educational for those of us that are not good a researching. Love the step by step! Thank you

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Phyllis, Thank you so much for detailing how to navigate the rat’s nest that is the Maryland wills archives. With your help, I was able to find an ancestor, Thomas Flint, and his will from 1771 in Worcester County MD. Despite looking for quite a while, I was unable to locate his father John Flint’s will, which was also listed in the index of Worcester Co. But I’m really pleased to have found one of the wills!

Leave a Reply to Kentucky Kindred Genealogical ResearchCancel reply