ATLANTA — Wills mean a lot to author and researcher Ted O. Brooke.
Brooke, 71, of Cumming, has spent decades compiling wills. He started with wills that were probated in his 1976 published book “In the Name of God, Amen, Georgia Wills, 1733-1860.”
His latest effort goes after “stray” wills, or those that were probated, but were never recorded in will books.
Entitled “Georgia Stray Wills 1733-1900,” Brooke has collected and abstracted 541 Georgia wills dated prior to 1901, located in Georgia Supreme Court case files, Superior Court records and original wills filed in county probate offices.
“Wills are a way of identifying family members, disposal of property, land and it tells a lot about a person’s life,” Brooke said.
Last month, the National Genealogical Society awarded Brooke with the Award for Excellence for his work in “Georgia Stray Wills 1733-1900.”
Sometimes, the testator (those whose wills are being probated) left things to family, close friends and even slaves.
Brooke came across the will of a man with five different copies and five different versions of the will.
“The reason that it got in the court is that he left all his property to his slaves and his family took him to court saying he was not of right mind,” Brooke said. “That would have been a reason to have it thrown aside and there was testimony from neighbors and people who said the man had been sleeping in trees outside and in hollow logs outside of his house.”
Brooke said in looking through this case, he learned the slaves slept in his house.
Surprising enough, for the time, the court upheld the will.
“One thing I learned, among many, that historically speaking, I don’t know about today, it’s very difficult to have a will overturned,” Brooke said. “The testator is not there to speak for himself and the court uses it that way, ‘he wrote this and had it witnessed.’”
In addition to sifting through 22,000 Supreme Court cases to find these stray wills, Brooke dug through the Georgia Archives, private papers, secondary published records and various other obscure and inconspicuous sources which, with very few exceptions, are not found recorded in Georgia colonial or county probate records.
“I wanted to compile them together so that researchers could go to one place and find the will that otherwise they would probably never find,” Brooke said.
The book, which covers the entire state, includes the complete text of each will, the county where it was probated and the location of the original. The wills are arranged in alphabetical order, with an index covering the many names found within them, including slaves.
In addition to wills of ordinary citizens, there are members of some prominent families, including Louisa Greene Shaw, daughter of Gen. Nathanael Greene. While some wills are fragments, most are whole.
Brooke, who is now retired from AT&T, has not slowed down. He has written 28 books along the lines of genealogy and is a running and Corvette enthusiast.
Brooke, who grew up in Tucker and has lived in Forsyth County for 20 years, said he enjoyed the work.
“They were all a little different and that is what kept me going,” Brooke said.
The hardbound book is a gem for anyone researching an ancestor in Georgia and looking to fill a research gap. Published with a grant from the R.J. Taylor Jr. Foundation, the book is available for reference at 42 repositories throughout the country and for sale at $35 postpaid from Ted O. Brooke, 2055 Foster Drive, Cumming, GA 30040.
For more information, visit www.tedobrooke.com.