Given Name(s) Last Name


from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 5/8/2001

Charlotte's Web on the Lake

I always look for an estate settlement for both the husband and the wife. This is particularly helpful if the husband dies first. For much of the time period genealogists work in, there's a small chance of an estate settlement for a female if her husband survives. It is simply an indicator of the times. I always check for a wife's estate, but rarely expect one if she dies first. I always double check for one if the wife dies last. Genealogically speaking, it is usually best that way.

The estate of Charlotte Lake from Chariton County, Missouri, is a prime example of this situation. Charlotte survived her husband by forty years. All her heirs are listed several places in her estate settlement (including some grandchildren). Some documents make the relationships of the heirs more clear than others.

When originally researching the estate records for Charlotte, time did not allow for a leisurely perusal of the information. Our stop in Chariton County was at the end of a rather long road trip and our time (and patience was short). Everyone was tired and cranky. This was not the best circumstance under which to research (however, those of us that travel with others frequently squeeze in what we can when we can). I decided not to figure out all the relationships and analyze everything completely on the spot. Instead, I would copy as many pages from the estate records as I could and analyze them at home when I was rested and better able to concentrate. As she survived her husband by many years and since some children died with children of their own, Charlotte's estate provided the most genealogical information.

Her estate included the following papers that listed her heirs:


  • A letter dated 10 February 1908 asking the probate judge of Chariton County to appoint D. G. Cupp administrator of the estate. This letter does not list all the heirs, but does include the actual signatures of nine of the heirs.


  • A quitclaim deed from January of 1910 where the heirs sell off the real estate of Charlotte Lake. Relationships to the deceased are not given in this deed. However, the names of the heirs and the heirs spouses are listed.


  • An untitled loose sheet containing only the names of Charlotte's heirs. The names appear to be organized by family.


  • An affidavit of the estate administrator dated 27 February 1908, which lists all the heirs of Charlotte and their residences.

    The last three documents were analyzed together in order to get an accurate listing of Charlotte's heirs at he time of her death and at the time of her estate settlement. The affidavit listing the heirs is not clear in a couple of cases and having the other documents made misinterpretations less likely.

    Charlotte's estate is particularly helpful as her husband's estate from the 1860s does not provide details on the heirs. The estate of John Lake contains basically two documents, an estate appraisement and an accounting of the items sold at the estate auction on 22 July 1865. Charlotte purchased practically everything from the estate, except for a few cattle and sheep. It appears that neighbors let Charlotte purchase what she needed at a reasonable cost. Charlotte's purchases were all considerably under the appraised value of the item.

    Her purchases included:

    4 stands of bees at 20 cents (appraised at $10.00)
    1 nursing colt at $1.25 (appraised at $25.00)
    1 set of plow gear at 25 cents (appraised at $5)
    The purchases by non-family members were considerably closer to the appraised value. There were two yoke of oxen, one appraised at $75 and the other appraised at $100. Of the two, one was sold to Charlotte at $5 and the other was sold to John Sutton for $100.

    Appraisals are not always accurate and genealogically speaking the type of items listed in the inventory may be more interesting than the perceived accuracy of each evaluation. The individuals listed as purchasers at the auction may include potential relatives and neighbors as well.

    In this case, it was helpful to obtain estate settlements on both the husband and the wife. While research done when traveling may not take place under the best of circumstances, I was reminded of a few things as I made copies from these estate cases:

    a) Bring plenty of money for copies. If necessary I eat a few more meals at McDonalds (although that's not possible at every county seat).

    b) Copy as much as possible and practical. I don't always know what I'll need and what I won't, and might not be back for quite a while. Take good detailed notes. Make copies of indexes and finding aids if you don't have time to search all the entries.

    c) Document as you go. Manila folders are good to sort things in as you copy them. Used 8.5"x 11" envelopes are good, too (reused ones work just as well for this temporary type of filing). I place the copies from a certain estate settlement or case file in the envelope or folder, write the documentation on the outside of it, and keep separate estate's records in separate folders or envelopes. It can be easy to interfile them if one is not careful. The envelopes are good because they usually can be secured shut.

    d) Keep copies ordered and separated. A given case file may have many "sets" of papers created at different points in the legal process. Don't just copy all the records from one case or settlement and put them all together. When I am copying a multi-page document, I write in pencil on the first page the title of the document, the date of filing, and other citation information. Then I assign that document a code (usually no more then three letters), put the code on the page with all the documentation and then use only that code on each of the remaining pages and number the pages. Then if the pages from different documents in one case file get mixed up, I can put them back in order. All this writing on the copies is done in pencil.

    e) I make certain that copies are legible as I make them. I also make comments or notations regarding illegible portions, in pencil, on the side of the document or on the back. I do not write directly on the copy I made. I was definitely glad when I got home that I had organized the copies as they were made. It would have taken me quite a while to sort them all out and I might have had to go back and look at the originals again, which would have been a monstrous waste of time.

    And the estate papers from Charlotte might have been in such a tangled web that I would have had to jump in the lake! (Sorry, I just couldn't resist).


    Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his Web site at:

    Copyright 2001,

    Used by the author on his website with permission.

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