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from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 11/20/2002

Trientje's Testate Tidbits

A recent column, "Probate-An Introduction", discussed some papers from the estate of Trientje Sartorius, which I had received from a correspondent. Readers familiar with probate terms will realize that if Trientje died "testate," she had a valid will. That was the document that correspondent had sent me.

I was hoping for more than what I received. Selected copies of papers from Trientje's estate discussed in this column can be viewed here.

What Did I Really Have?
I was fairly certain that what I had was a photocopy of a handwritten transcription of the will and not a copy of the will itself. All three signatures (those of Trientje and the two witnesses) were in the same script, which made it fairly clear to me that the copy I had was not a copy of the original. While I did not doubt the veracity of the copy I had, I did want to see if there were additional records.

How Did I Get The Entire File?
First it was necessary to determine where the will would have been filed and probated. The copy I have begins, "I, Trientje Sartorius . . . of the City of Quincy, County of Adams, State of Illinois . . ."

This makes my starting point relatively easy: Adams County, Illinois. If I had not known where to locate probate and will records for Adams County, Illinois, I should have referenced some of the following materials:

Family History Library's Research Guide to Illinois, viewable through the FamilySearch site. This provides an excellent overview of Illinois sources, with emphasis on the Family History Library.

Another good source of information would be Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, edited by Alice Eichholz

Of course, it's possible that Trientje's will wasn't probated in the county where she lived at the time it was drawn up. However, that is the logical place to start my search.

Actually Getting The Record
Some counties will respond to requests for probate material by mail; many will not. Had I mailed a request I should have determined the approximate date of Trientje's death in order to assist in the search. I also should indicate what records I want from the file (such as the will, an inventory of real or personal property, lists of heirs, etc.), and how much I was willing to spend on those copies.

I chose not to contact the records office myself. I contacted a researcher who I knew in the area and asked them to search the records for me. In this case my research request was fairly specific and limited ("send copies of the will and other pages from the file" up to a specified limit). There were several pages in the file, including a copy of the actual will of Trientje Sartorius, complete with her own signature. The contents of the probate packet were fairly straightforward and Trientje's will was fairly short.

Name Spelled Incorrectly
Trientje's will lists a legatee, Tena Ufkerts[sic]. I knew the reference was to my great-grandmother Tena Ufkes. The "Order Admitting Will" states that one of the legatees is actually "Tena Ufkes, named in said will as Tena Ufkerts." In probates in the last hundred years or so, a judge or court official may insist that irregularities in names or spellings be explained. This will not necessarily be the case with a probate from the 1700s. This reconciliation of name variants can be a significant clue, especially in the case of the Anglicization of non-English names.

There are few handwritten documents in this probate file, which is not unusual given the time period. The address of one heir is listed as "Convert Street" in Keokuk, Iowa. The street should actually be "Concert Street." Not all typographical errors are as minor as this one.

Petition To Probate Will
One of the estate papers was a "Certificate of Mailing Notices of Petition to Probate Will," dated 18 March 1926, which contained the following names and addresses:

John Sartorius, Golden, Adams, Illinois
Lena Adams, Golden, Adams, Illinois
Herman Sartorius, Welcome, Martin, Minnesota
William Sartorius, Amish, Alberta, Canada
Tena Krog, Peoria, Peoria, Illinois
Claude Sartorius, Danville, Vermillion, Illinois
George Sartorius, Basco, Hancock, Illinois
Henry Johnson, Keokuk, Lee, Iowa
Ella Tamman[sic] Quincy, Adams, Illinois
Tena Ufkerts, Carthage, Hancock, Illinois

If this paper had been the only one copied, a larger omission would have taken place. The executors of the estate are not listed on this document, likely as they were already aware of the proceedings. If I had simply "grabbed" this document and ignored the others, I would have lost the addresses of the two executors, Vola Price and Anna Buhrmeister, who were also heirs of Trientje.

Who Are All These People?
The petition of Vola Price and Anna Buhrmeister to probate the will of Trientje Sartorius lists twelve heirs, including Vola and Anna. This petition, filed 17 March 1926, does not list the specific relationship of the heir to the deceased. In reality, I have an idea of how many, if not all, of the people fit in. If I did not know the relationships, here are some things I should do.

  • Determining How The Heirs Heir
    Trientje's obituary from a local newspaper may provide a listing of children and possibly the first names of the husbands of the married daughters. An obituary might also name predeceased children (or at least indicate there were children who died before Trientje), which would explain the potential presence of grandchildren's names on the list of heirs.

  • Ages of Heirs
    I searched the 1920 Census index at Ancestry to see how many of these named heirs I could locate. Of course, not all of these individuals will appear in the 1920 index. They may not all be heads of household and those living with their husbands will be more difficult to locate until the first names of the husbands are determined. Since I have a 1926 residence for the twelve individuals, census work will be somewhat easier, but a 1926 residence is no guarantee of a 1920 residence at the same location. For the purposes of this analysis, I'm pretending that I know nothing other than what is in the probate papers.

    Quick searches of the 1920 census index located several of the individuals:

    John Sartorius in Adams County, Illinois, aged 56.
    Lena Adams (listed as Metalina) in Adams County, Illinois, aged 52.
    Herman Sartorius, in Martin County, Minnesota, aged 48.
    George Sartorius, in Hancock County, Illinois, aged 26.
    Henry Johnson, in Lee County, Iowa, aged 26.

    Henry is likely a grandson based upon the fact that his surname is Johnson instead of Sartorius. Based upon George's age and the fact that Trientje was 77 in 1920 when she wrote her will, it seems reasonable that George is a grandchild instead of a child. Of course, the census work is incomplete and these theories should be followed by a search of additional records.

    Trientje's will lists many legatees, all of whom are children or grandchildren. The will only lists one person with a relationship, "my son Claude Sartorius." All other individuals are mentioned by name only, sans relationship. Sometimes, probate documents are not as specific as we would like. One has to remember that those living in 1926 when the will was probated likely knew the relationships.

    Trientje separates out George Sartorius, Henry Johnson, Ella Johnson, and Tenan Ufkerts [sic] in her will, providing them specific monetary bequests. It turns out these four individuals are actually Trientje's grandchildren through two of Trientje's predeceased children. The will and the estate packet does not name any predeceased children.

    Name Changes?
    Careful attention should be paid to last names of females in these records. This is especially true if the estate records were created over a period of several years. Ella Johnson is listed as a legatee in Trientje's 3 December 1920 will. Ella Johnson Tamman[sic] is listed as an heir in the documents from March of 1926. When searching for a marriage record for this individual, I now have a range of dates. These records can contain clues as to married names of females.

  • View the entire set of estate files if possible. One document may be more complete than another for any number of reasons.

  • View all references to an individual over a period of time to determine if any clues are given in regards to residence or marital status.

  • Consider getting the estate papers even when you have the will and even when the estate is likely small (as it was in this case).

  • Women who died before their husbands typically do not have estate files. If the wife survives her husband, as happened in this case, make certain to check for a probate file.

    Probate Records

    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 website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

    Copyright 2002, Inc.

    Used by the author on his website with permission.

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