records can provide us with more than a list of our ancestor's heirs.
This week we look at a probate from Missouri in 1865 where the heirs
are not even listed. Despite this apparent limitation we will see that
the estate settlement of John Lake provides several insights into his
family's life, both before and after his demise.
Note: Images discussed in this article can be viewed here.
More Than Just What He Has
Estate inventories can provide a clue as to your ancestor's likely
occupation based upon his possessions, but they can potentially reveal
even more information if one chooses to look beyond the surface. John
Lake's estate record contains two inventories of his personal property,
both an appraisal of every item and an accounting of those thing sold
at auction. That the inventory revealed John was a farmer was no
surprise. The agricultural equipment listed was fairly typical for the
mid-nineteenth century, axes, augers, shovels, bridles, a handsaw, plow
gear, etc. The only piece of equipment whose name was initially
unfamiliar to me was a "frow." A quick search revealed that "frow" was
a variant of "froe" which Dictionary.com
indicated was "a cleaving tool having a heavy blade set at right angles
to the handle." A search of online images at Google quickly located modern
pictures to give me a better point of reference. I knew what a frow was
as soon as I saw it. It was just the name that did not "click"when I
read it in the inventory.
had the typical livestock of the time period and the locale, including
sheep, hogs, horses, cattle, and a mule. Some of these animals were
listed individually and some were grouped together by age or condition.
(Here, a knowledge of various livestock terms is extremely helpful.)
Also listed were four stands of bees, which I was not expecting.
The Widow Gets a Bargain
All the items were appraised shortly before they were sold. As I looked
at the appraisal and the auction prices, a clear pattern emerged.
John's widow, Charlotte, purchased approximately three-fourths of the
items at prices significantly below the appraisal (as an example
Charlotte paid $10 for two mares initially appraised at $95 and paid
$.20 for the bees which appraised at $10). While appraisal prices can
be off, the difference was significant. The items purchased by
neighbors or other relatives were obtained at prices much closer to the
appraised value. (For example, a mule appraised at $50 was sold for $52
and sheep appraised at $20 sold for $20.) Other items were consistent
with this pattern. In most cases, Charlotte paid less than one-tenth of
an item's appraised value. Items purchased by others were sold at
prices generally between 75 and 100 percent of their appraised value.
Taken out of context, it looks like Charlotte got a steal. I am not
certain that is exactly what happened.
records do not mention that when John Lake died in 1865, he left a
widow in her mid-thirties with at least eight children under the age of
fifteen still at home. Given the family situation, it is easy to
picture what happened on July 22, 1865 when the personal property from
John's estate was sold. It seems likely that the items and livestock
Charlotte needed to maintain the farm were purchased by her at a
nominal price. It is also not difficult to imagine neighbors shooting
dirty glances (or worse) at anyone who might have been bidding against
the Widow Lake. John's son, John Jr. also purchased a colt from the
estate at a significantly lower price. And before we think Charlotte
got an extra good deal, it is worth remember that she was a young widow
with eight children to support; she likely needed all the bargains she
is more to the estate of John Lake than his chattel property and his
wifeâ€˜s purchase of the bulk of his estate.
Where They Lived
The inventory of John's real estate mentions parcels of property
apparently totaling approximately 139 acres. If one reads the real
estate listing too quickly it appears John owned property in two
separate locations in Chariton County. However as one reads the
descriptions of the real estate more closely, small tracts of land are
actually mentioned in three locations: section 23 and 25 of one
township and section 30 of another.
Using an online map of
Chariton County, I was able to determine the townships in which the
property was located, Clark and Bee Branch Townships. (The inventory
provided the township and range numbers which were used on the map to
determine the township names.)
and simplifying, John owned tracts of land in the following sections:
23 in Clark Township
2. Section 25 in Clark Township
3. Section 30 in Bee Branch Township
Township is directly west of Bee Branch Township and the close
proximity of the three sections is evident from the maps mentioned
above. Actual location of residences or properties is always a good
thing for the genealogist to know.
There is Even More Property Mentioned in the Inventory
According to the inventory, John also held a deed of trust, executed by
John H. and Julia B. Stratton dated 1863. Based upon the description,
this property is located in Yellow Creek Township. This deed of trust
is valued at $200. Why does John own property nearly ten miles from his
farm? He doesn't. The deed of trust is actually a mortgage and John
Lake holds the note.
Who Are All These Other
There are a variety of individuals mentioned in the estate records of
John Lake. Interestingly, nowhere in the records is Charlotte
specifically listed as his widow or his surviving spouse. The
appraisers of the estate are Joseph Sutton, John Sisson and William
Whiteaker. 1870 census records indicate individuals with these names
all lived in Bee Branch Township, the same township where Charlotte
Lake is enumerated in 1870 (and where part of Johnâ€˜s property
located). It is uncertain if the appraiser John Sisson is the John S.
Sisson (aged 34 in 1870) or the John W. Sisson (aged 63 in 1870) who
are enumerated in adjacent households. Interestingly enough, all three
appraisers are Kentucky natives as were John and Charlotte Lake.
Virtually everyone located in the 1870 census who was involved in the
probate of John Lake (either as buying property, owing the estate
money, or appraising the estate) was born in Kentucky or Tennessee.
Toting the Note
The inventory of John's estate lists several individuals who had
borrowed money from John before his death. Most of these people could
also be located in Bee Branch or nearby townships. The principals on
the loans varied from $2.00 to $294. In this case, none of the names
appeared to be relatives of John, although one should always consider
this possibility when learning that your ancestor's estate was owed
of John is less than ten pages long and yet it provided us with an
interesting glimpse into the Lake family.
settlements may tell you more than just what appears on the surface.
may provide clues as to occupation, financial status.
individual buying property at a "steal" from an estate may be a
surviving spouse, even if the records do not list the person in that
to whom your ancestor lent money may be relatives---or they may not.
Use these names as clues.
- When you
do not know what a word or phrase means, look it up. This was helpful
here with a "frow" and the "deed of trustâ€ which could have
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 currently a member of the board of the Federation
of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures
nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and
contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry
Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or
visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.