This will be the first in a series of relatively short posts on pitfalls and things to watch for in specific types of records. Remember that any record can contain an error anywhere due to oversight, human error, or individuals who give “creative answers.” These comments are suggestive–not exhaustive.
Ancestral wills, while a valuable source, may omit children to whom the testator has already given an inheritance or children with whom the testator has had a “falling out.” If the clerk is unfamiliar with the family, legatees and devisees may be listed by the name which was familiar to the testator–not necessarily the name the person used at that point in their life.
A testator may appoint a guardian to oversee property given to grandchildren (or to others) even when both parents of that grandchild are alive.
A testator may mention “my now” spouse. This does not necessarily indicate the testator was married more than once. It is usually a phrase used to make clear to whom the property is to be given if that “now spouse” dies and the testator remarries. A married man with children may indicate that “my farm is to go to my now wife and then to her children at her death.” That way if the “now wife” dies and the widow (the testator) remarries, the will’s intent is still clear and does not need to be immediately changed.