In my paralegal classes this summer, I have (more than once) been able to see how closely my paralegal studies intersect with genealogy. For my Estates and Probate class, I was to find an "interesting" case involving a will or trust, and present it to the class.
While I was doing research on the Westlaw database, I found this case and was immediately interested because of its local history. And wills have a lot of genealogical value, even if they are forged! I present to you "Green v. Terwilliger", tried in the Oregon Circuit Court on August 29, 1892.
James Terwilliger was born in New York about 1808, and came to Oregon Territory in the early 1840's, where he established a business as blacksmith and tanner, and built a cabin in what is now downtown Portland. By 1845 he was a widower with two half-grown sons. Philinda Green was a widow with two sons, Calvin and William Green; they had traveled across the plains in a covered wagon in 1847.
In 1848 James and Philinda were married. Their daughter Julia was born in 1855, and shortly after that they purchased 640 acres of land near Portland, the east half of which was put in Philinda's name.
Then tragedy struck - on August 14, 1873, Philinda Terwilliger's son Calvin Green was murdered while driving cattle to Nevada. It took over a week for the news to reach Portland, and the newspapers didn't pick up the story until the first week in September."Murder of a Stock Man", Idaho Statesman, 4 September 1873, p.2; digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com) Philinda Terwilliger died in October 1873, just a couple of months after her son Calvin's death. A Will Surfaces
On March 28, 1889, a will purporting to be written by Philinda Terwilliger was filed for probate in Portland, 15 years after its creation. The date of the will was August 14, 1873, and it had been kept in a desk in the Terwilliger home. The main bequests of the will were these:
- First, I devise, give and bequeath to my daughter, Julia Viola Terwilliger, of Multnomah County, Oregon, the house and furniture in which we now live, and also the undivided east half of the James Terwilliger Donation Land Claim that may not have been sold at the time of my decease.
- Second, I give and bequeath to my son, Wm. O. Green, of Washington Territory, my clock which I brought across the plains.
Although William Green, Philinda's other son, had died in 1878, his widow and grown children brought suit, claiming that this will was a forgery. They were challenging Julia Terwilliger Richardson, who with her father James Terwilliger maintained that the will was genuine. There were several questions addressed in court:
- The will was dated August 14, 1873, the exact same day that Calvin Green was murdered in Nevada
- The will does not mention Calvin Green at all
- Testimony was submitted to the effect that news of Calvin's death did not reach Portland until a week later, on August 21, 1873
- Although James Terwilliger had taught Philinda how to write her name, the will was written and signed "in an easy hand."
- Other documents that Philinda had signed during her lifetime were written on legal cap or blank paper
- This will was written on "small leaves torn from an account book, porous and dimly lined".
- The handwriting of the will, Philinda's signature, and the witness signatures was very similar
There were more problems in this particular case. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Lorenzo Sawyer heard testimony from both sides through most of April 1891. He had not yet reached a decision when he traveled to San Francisco that fall, and died there of bronchitis in September 1891. U.S. District Judge Thomas Hawley took over, and began hearing testimony early in 1892.
In his judgement, which was handed down on August 29, 1892, was that the handwriting in the will, Philinda's signature, and the witness signatures were all forged; that it would be unnatural for her not to mention Calvin in her will; and that it was very peculiar for these papers to have stayed in the unlocked desk drawer so long without being brought to court.
And there the matter would seem to have been decided, once and for all. Ah, but was it? There is much more to the story, which will be continued!
"Forgery of a Will", The Morning Oregonian, 30 August 1892, p.8; digital images; 19th Century Newspapers, (http://infotrac.galegroup.com.ezproxy.kcls.org
When I received all the family papers from my Grandpa Reed, they included records from Grandma Reed's side of the family, too. Evidently both of them had been collecting family stories and writing them down, drawing family trees, and collecting letters from relatives. One of the items in the inventory of Grandma's papers was a luggage tag.
It says "Mrs. J.H. Wooley, Flagstaff, Arizona
formerly Lottie Prosser, daughter of
Charles Prosser, Mama's brother."
Over the years, I did enough research to learn that Lottie Prosser (Grandma Reed's cousin) was listed on the 1900 census of Forester, Sanilac County, Michigan (living with her maternal grandmother), and on the 1910 census of Wheatland, Sanilac County, with her husband John H. Wooley and two small sons, William and John Jr. I couldn't find her after that, not even in Arizona records, and I didn't know what became of her.
Then I found out about Online Searchable Death Indexes (http://www.deathindexes.com
), which is a continually updated roster of online vital records for every state. When I learned about Arizona's online death certificates, I went to the website (http://genealogy.az.gov/
) and typed in Lottie Wooley. Immediately I had her death certificate on my computer screen! This told me the reason she was living in Arizona - because she had consumption (or tuberculosis). She died 10 November 1919, at the age of 33.
Some time later, I followed the breadcrumbs on Ancestry to trace Lottie's two sons, and actually called her grandson Arthur Wooley to talk to him about his grandmother. He sent me her picture, which I'm guessing was taken between 1910 and 1915.
The moral of this story is, you never know where the smallest clues are going to take you, so hang onto all of them!
Once upon a time, before my children were born, the only way I could research census records was on my lunch hour at the Seattle Public Library's Genealogy Department. After the kids came, I would find a babysitter (my mother, my mother-in-law, or various other relatives) and drive to the National Archives on Sand Point Way in Seattle, rejoicing in 4 hours of freedom to crank those reels of microfilm, trying to discover where my ancestors had settled in Michigan. I went there solely for the census records (1900 and 1910 were the latest available), and I had no idea what other treasures lurked inside that cement-gray building.
Flash forward about 20 years, and I'm in the middle of the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course. I thought I was a pretty savvy researcher, but this course taught me (among other things) how much I didn't know.
Land records, for example. One Saturday I went to the Archives on Sand Point Way (no longer needing a babysitter) to look at land records. What I found just emphasized how much information is out there that is NOT online, and perhaps never will be.
When I looked at the binder of abstracts of land records, looking for an interesting case to explore, I saw the abstract for William and Elizabeth Brannon.
(Washington Territory Land Claims, abstract for land patent for William & Elizabeth Brannon, O-501, National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle.)
The abstract stated that Elizabeth's father, Michael Livingston, testified that his daughter and son-in-law were killed by Indians on their land about 25 November 1855. The full record of this land patent was on microfilm M815, roll 99, pages 616 to 630.
When I looked at the microfilm, there were several pages, beginning with the original land patent filed by William H. Brannon, dated April 1855. In it he gave his date and place of birth (1832 in Ohio) and his marriage to Elizabeth Livingston in King County, Washington Territory in December 1853, and that he had one heir, Margaret Jane Brannon. The next pages were depositions by Elizabeth's father, Michael Livingston, who said that William and Elizabeth were killed by Indians in 1855, and that Elizabeth's mother Margaret Howard Livingston died in Benton County, Oregon in 1856. There was another deposition by a family friend, M.D. Woodin, who testified that he traveled with the Livingston family when emigrating to the west. William Brannon's land claim described it as being in parts of Sections 6 and 7 in Township 21 North, Range 5 East, next to land owned by James A. Lake and Harry Jones and close to the White River.
Wanting to know more, I stashed my purse in one of the lockers, filled out a researcher card, and went into the textual research room to look at plat maps.
(Land plat map for Township 21 North, Range 5 East, Willamette Meridian in Washington Territory. Record Group 49, Vol. 28, Box 31. National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle)
Here you can see William Brannon's land, right next to the White River, in South King County, Washington Territory.
Then I went to Google Earth, and with the help of a plotting instrument I found on Earthpoint
, found the exact spot in Auburn where William and Elizabeth built their cabin, began farming, and made friends with their neighbors. Back then, it was a wilderness; now it's very close to downtown Auburn, full of banks and schools and grocery stores. Sometimes we forget just how hard life used to be. And here's the thing - you won't find William and Elizabeth Brannon on Ancestry. Their marriage and their deaths are not recorded online at the King County Archives, or the Washington Digital Archives. William's land claim is not recorded on the Bureau of Land Management database.
You won't even find Elizabeth's father, William Livingston. About the only place you can find their information is here on this microfilmed land record and the original plat books. So if you're looking for someone who lived in the Midwest in the 1850's and suddenly disappeared from sight, look to the land records. He might have settled in Washington Territory.
While writing my post yesterday, it occurred to me to wonder what the house at 14041 Rosemont Ave. in Detroit looks like today. I have an old photo of the house as it looked just after it was built by my Grandpa Stoelt in about 1929. Back then, it was probably on the outskirts of Detroit, surrounded by lots of nothing!
This image was easy to find on Google Earth (you can also do this on Google Maps).
Go to http://www.google.earth.com
Download the Google Earth software.
Open up Google Earth and type in the address you're interested in seeing.
When Google Earth "flies" to that address, zoom in close and then look for the little gold figure to one side. With your mouse, drag the figure to the street in front of your address (this will only work if Google has street view images in their database). Google Earth (or Google Maps) will zoom down and plop you right in front of the house, and then you can use your mouse to swivel around 360 degrees!
I think my grandfather would be proud of his house that is still standing, over 80 years later, along with the one he built in 1932 or 1933. This house at 14883 Faust Avenue in Detroit was the one I grew up knowing as "Grandpa Stoelt's" house:
This post begins with a sad story - the first of many that I have come across in my years of doing genealogical research. I had grown up knowing that my mom lost her mother when she was 5 months old, and that her father had remarried a year later. Grandma Stoelt was the only grandmother I had ever known, and I loved her dearly. To put "Bessie Blanche Randall" in the space for my maternal grandmother on the pedigree chart I was creating, instead of "Gertrude Ervilla Varran", felt very odd. My mother had grown up in a Christian Science household, and had never known why her mother had died.
So, following the directions in the genealogy books I'd read, I sent away for my grandmother's death certificate. I remember clearly the day I received it - I opened the envelope standing in our kitchen, with my mother eagerly looking over my shoulder. My grandmother Bessie Blanche Stoelt had died at home, 14041 Rosemont Street in Detroit, of pernicious anemia complicated by myocarditis. She died on the 21st of December, 1931 - on her husband's birthday, four days before Christmas, at the age of 33. Her parents (my great-grandparents) were Herbert K. Randall and Claudia Thompson, the great-grandmother I was named for.
That would seem to be sad enough, to begin with, but over the years I discovered there was more to the story. According to Grandma Ervilla Stoelt (who'd heard the story from Grandpa Stoelt), Bessie had had a falling out with her parents the summer of 1931, in the later stages of her pregnancy. The last time she saw her father, he shouted at her and slammed the door in her face. My mother Mary Elizabeth Stoelt was born in August, and at the end of October Bessie's mother Claudia Thompson Randall died (coincidentally) of liver cancer and pernicious anemia. In Claudia's obituary, there was no mention of her surviving daughter Bessie or the new granddaughter, only her son Ray Thompson Randall.
I think the myocarditis was a broken heart.
Bessie Blanche Randall Stoelt
10 Nov. 1898 ~ 20 Dec. 1931
In 1972 my paternal grandfather Maurice Leonard Reed died on the other side of the state in Bradenton, and my father, who was the executor of his estate, made the 3-hour trip every weekend in order to wrap up his affairs and sell the house. One of the many things my dad brought home (besides stacks of hand-woven rugs, antique lamps and clocks, and my grandfather's complete set of journals covering 1928 to 1957) was the files of family papers and records.
I was immediately hooked. There was a typewritten family tree (done by a professional genealogist for the family back in 1936) showing our history back to William Bradford, several letters and poems typed on onion-skin paper, and scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes. Plus a luggage tag, which I held onto, and which proved to be a major clue in my later research.
My next step was (naturally) going to the public library, where I checked out Searching for Your Ancestors, by Gilbert Doane. I started writing letters to everyone I could think of - my other grandparents in Michigan, elderly aunts and uncles, and Michigan libraries and courthouses. I started haunting the mailbox, whooping with joy when I received an answer in the mail.
I was on my way!
When I was 12 years old my father got a job with Boeing at the Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and our family moved to Merritt Island from Forest Park, a little suburb of Cincinnati. Being an avid bookworm in a family of readers, one of our first stops was at the Merritt Island Public Library. In 1967 it was a distinct step down from the small storefront library I had known as a little girl - it was housed in a dilapidated cabin with peeling yellow paint and rickety wooden steps, surrounded by wild morning glories. It couldn't have been over 900 square feet, and the rows of books flowed from one little room to another. In the heat of a Florida summer, it was lovely.
I was standing in front of the row of adult fiction, just exploring the worlds beyond Narnia, Carolyn Haywood and Beany Malone. My mother joined me, picked a book from the shelf and handed it to me, saying, "Here - I think you might like this." It was Dawn's Early Light, by Elswyth Thane, and was my introduction into the world of historical fiction. As my years in junior high and high school went by, I read and re-read all the books in the Williamsburg series that began with Dawn's Early Light and continued with Yankee Stranger and Ever After. The later books had family trees on the endpapers, which fascinated me, but even more important, imparted a sense that who your parents and grandparents were mattered - that those who came before you made a difference in who your are today. "The Spragues were strong and unruly, enterprising and irresistible...The Murrays were a tough, adventurous, passionate, intensely masculine breed of men with a flair for making money...And the Days were likely to be bookish, thoughtful, homekeeping, loving people." (Ever After, p.13)
Not unlike the Reeds. For me, that's where it all began.