Researchers and genealogists now have easier access to probate records from 1818 to 1900 through the donation of microfilm reels to both Scenic Regional Library and the Washington Historical Society this week.

The 20th District Circuit Franklin County Clerk’s office presented a duplicate set of reels to both entities to provide the resources to the public.

Bill D. Miller, Franklin County Circuit Court clerk, said there are requests for the records often, but the microfilm readers at the clerk’s office are in a secure location that requires supervision.

“We don’t have the manpower or the space for folks to come in and do their own research, so this is a win-win for everyone,” Miller said.

When the court had microfilm prepared for its records, two duplicates were made, Miller explained. The Secretary of State provides the court’s reels free of charge and the duplicates were purchased for local agencies.

Volunteers with The Four Rivers Genealogical Society do the microfilming using secretary of state equipment at the government building in Union. Once complete, the microfilm is submitted to the secretary of state’s office to prepare the reels, Miller noted.

“It’s a neat collaboration,” Miller said.

Under the direction of a Missouri State Archives historian and archivist, volunteers with the Four Rivers Genealogical Society work diligently with the old paper files to clean and straighten out the papers, merge files with the court papers as appropriate, and put them in chronological order within the file, the genealogical society website says.

There are still cases maintained in books, Miller noted, which will stay housed at the clerk’s office.

“This microfilm will be added to our existing collection, which is extremely valuable to researchers and genealogists doing research,” said Steve Campbell, library director. “We’re happy to offer it at a location in Union to benefit researchers around Franklin County.”

Marc Houseman, Washington Historical Society Museum director, also said the records are extremely valuable and that microfilm has gone up in price dramatically, inhibiting researchers.

“It has gotten so expensive that a lot of places simply are not able to afford to buy it,” Houseman said.

The museum is open to all six days per week, 10 months of the year, free of charge. It closes Dec. 24 to March 1 this year.

“For genealogists, those records can really be a gold mine,” he said.

In fact, it was through probate records that the city of Washington discovered the burial site of its founder, Lucinda Owens, he said.

Houseman said he knew her husband William Owens was buried at Krog Park and wanted to try and prove Lucinda Owens was buried there too.

“I went through her probate file page, by page, by page on microfilm,” he said. Finally, on a small slip of paper he found what he was looking for. There was a receipt charged to her estate for an iron coffin.

Armed with the knowledge that she was buried in an iron coffin, he called a friend with a metal detector and gave them an area to search, but didn’t tell him what he was searching for. But when Houseman’s friend reported that he had found a 6-foot by 2-foot object near William Owens’ grave, he knew what the object was.

“We were able to find the founder of Washington (grave) because of that slip of paper,” Houseman said.

The records can provide all kinds of clues to a person’s life through their will, appraisals, inventory lists, subsequent sales and sometimes names of heirs and other useful research information.