Thursday, June 12, 2014

Am I Crazy?

I'm thinking of ordering a 74-page probate file (the first of two) to obtain information about a man who may (or may not) be my ancestor at a cost of $42.00 plus postage.  Am I crazy?  I haven't done it yet so I really want an answer to that question.

There are two files (O.S. 3281 and File 781) because, as the kind lady at the Mercer County Courthouse told me, "The O.S. just indicates it’s an old file 1800 – 1885 filings (ex. OS 1).  Then in 1886 they started numbering at the beginning again (1).  Both files will have probate information.  Probably something happened that a new administrator had to be appointed or something additional was filed so a 2nd file number was given.  The files may have some duplicate information."

I'm relatively new to court records so I have questions.  What would keep a probate file in process for 16 years?  I don't know the ages of the man's children when he died but he did state in his will that they could live on his farm until they came of age.  Is it possible that if he had very young children the probate would not have been settled until the youngest child came of age?  If not, what other reasons could there be for it to have continued so long?

My person of interest in asking all these questions is Jacob Sailor, a possible ancestor.  From a county history I discovered that he lived in West Salem Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, and died in about 1870.  I suspected that his will -- if he had one -- would have been filed there.

So yesterday I perused the Mercer County will books on FamilySearch and found his will.  I was sorry to see that his children are listed collectively as "my five children by my first wife" and "my second wife and my seven children of which she is the Mother."  (If this man is my ancestor, I'm a descendant of one of the children of his first wife.)

His will states (to the best of my transcription abilities and minus the line breaks),
[page 522]
Jacob Sailor
I Jacob Sailor of West Salem township Mercer County and state Pennsylvania do make and publish this my last last [sic] will and Testament in manner and form following.  That is to say, first it is my will and I do order that all my just debts funeral Expenses be duly paid and satisfied as soon as conveniently can be after my decease.  Second I give and bequeath unto my five children by my first wife my share of one hundred and ten acres of land in Crawford County.  My share is 900 dollars and John Thomas is 1200 Dollars but is not to be sold for one year unless it sells for as much as was paid for it.  Third, I give and bequeath unto Mary [liso?] my second wife and my seven children of which she is the Mother the rite to occupy the farm on which I now reside until the youngest child is twenty-one years old, and after the sail [sic] of the land on which I now reside is held each of the children of both the mothers is to have Equal shares and the money received by the children of the first wife is to be counted in there shares so that Each will receive an Equal amount[.]                                   Jacob Sailor  :seal:
Signed published and delivered by the above named Jacob Sailor as and for his last will testament in presents of us who at his request have signed and witnessed The same[.]
                                                              Chas Rice
                                                              John H. Fromman
Mercer County
                                  Before me a Register of wills I in and for said County personally came Charles Rice and John H Fromman subscribing witnesses to the attached instrument of Writing purporting to be the last will and testament of John Sailor decd who being duly sworn according to law [dis???] and say That they were present with and saw said testator sign and Seal as and for his last will and testament and that at the time of his doing he the said testator was of sound and desposing mind memory and understanding to the best or deponents knowledge and belief also that they signed their names as
[page 523]
Witnesses Thereto at the request of and in The presence of said testator and in the presence of other                                            Charles Rice
                                                                                John H. Fromman
Sworn and subscribed to before me This 1" day of November AD 1870
                                    Geo Reznor Register
Registured [sic] Nov 1" 1870

With the above information and knowing that I'm seeking my great-grandmother Catherine (Saylor) Froman's father, if you were me, would you pay $42.00 for that 74-page partial probate file?  Or am I crazy to consider it?  Please tell me what you think.

--Nancy.

© 2014 Copyright by Nancy Messier.  All rights reserved.
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10 comments:

  1. Have you ever asked Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, a question? I bet she'd have an answer about why a will could stay in probate 16 years. Ask her.

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  2. How about a road trip to Mercer County?

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    1. That's a point well-taken and very persuasive, Claudia, and one that my husband will definitely appreciate. When I think in those terms, $42.00 looks fairly inexpensive. A drive from here to Mercer would cost about $70 round trip, not including anything but gas. In that light, maybe $42.00 is a good price. Thanks for pointing that out!

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  3. Although $42 for 74 pages strikes me as pretty expensive, I'd expect you're probably going to get some good information from a file that size, Nancy. To be in process for 16 years, to me, indicates someone took issue with the will or there was another problem settling the estate. That's usually good news if you're looking for names and relationships. Perhaps guardianships were involved. Or perhaps children of the first wife had differences with children of the second wife. Have you checked other court records, such as Orphan's Court? If he owned land, deed records might also shed some light on what was happening.

    I hope this is at least somewhat helpful. It's a curious case, so let us know what you decide. Best of luck to you!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this file, Shelley. I took a few minutes today to search for Jacob Sailor and family in the 1870 census and found him with wife and children as named in the county history I mentioned earlier. This was his second marriage and the 7 children range in age from 11 years to 8 months. It may be that the probate proceedings extended so long because the youngest child wouldn't have come of age until 1891! The first wife died in about 1858, so there would be no problem between the wives. But, as you say, there could be other reasons for it to take so long.

      I didn't see an Orphan's Court file for the children which seem strange considering that Catherine (Saylor) Froman's children all had cases in the Orphan's Court just a year later.

      Jacob did own property but I haven't done much research into deeds. I wonder if FamilySearch or Ancestry have deeds.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience, Shelley. I appreciate it.

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  4. Short but sweet. I would go ahead and order the file. I once paid about $34 for a 40-page will, so I think the price is right (and that was about 11 years ago). I was thinking perhaps you could hire somebody to do it for you, but even that would cost money. Good luck.

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    1. Thanks for responding, Barbara. I'd just about made up my mind to order it. I think you comment tips the scale. From such an experienced genealogist/family historian as you, I really appreciate your taking the time to read and leave a comment.

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  5. I think $42 for 74 pages is pretty good value for money if you consider the time it takes to locate the file, handle it while copying and preparing it for shipment.
    Whether you are crazy to spend $42 depends on what that money means to you. If it's a choice between ordering a probate record or feeding your children for a week, then yes, you are crazy. If it's a choice between ordering a probate record or buying six venti lattes at a fancy coffee shop, than nope, you're not.

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    1. Lol. You're right, Yvette, it's all about perspective and situation, isn't it?

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I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.