The Constitution of the State of Pennsylvania of 1790 included Article V, Section VII which stated that the judges of the court of common pleas would compose an orphans court as necessary. As early as the year 1713, the General Assembly of the province of Pennsylvania had enacted Acts designed to safeguard the estates bequeathed to children by their deceased parents. It was a general custom for a widow to remarry, and also for a father to bequeath the bulk of his estate to his children. In order to ensure that a new stepfather did not steal the childrens inheritance from them, the orphans court was established.
On 27 March, 1713 an Act for etablishing Orphans Courts was enacted by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. The first section of that Act stated that:
Section III of the Act of 1713 stated that:
The orphans court dockets for Bedford County are filled with entries in which guardians were named for minor children of a recently deceased man. Such records often provide ages of the children, which become valuable information to genealogists.
The orphans court laws have not changed very much to the present time. If no executor/executrix was named in the will, or if the deceased died intestate (i.e. without having written and filed a will), then the settlement of the estate is forwarded to and handled by the Clerk of the Orphans Court. (If the county does not have a position of Clerk of the Orphans Court, the estate will usually be settled by the Prothonotary.)
The court will name a man to serve as the estates Administrator (or a woman to serve as the estates Administratrix), to whom Letters of Administration will be granted. The estate will then be settled.
In the case of the deceased dying without a will to direct the disposition and distribution of the estate, the Administrator is obligated to search out all known direct-line descendants, and the estate is divided evenly among them all. In the case of a child who may have died previous to the recently deceased parent, that childs portion of the estate will be distributed to any children of the previously deceased child. For this reason, the estate records of intestate proceedings are very valuable and useful to a genealogist. As compared to a will, in which only a few of the children of the deceased might be mentioned (depending on the whim of the deceased), in an intestate proceeding all the children will be listed. And on top of that, if any of those children are already deceased, their children will all be listed, in order that the estate might be divided up fairly and evenly among the deceaseds survivors.