Sunday, July 27, 2014


The probate file of Jacob Saylor -- or Sailor, as written in the file -- arrived earlier this week.  It's that 74-page file I ordered a few weeks ago from the Courthouse in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  Jacob died in 1870.

I don't know what I expected.  I open it to the first pages and find nearly-impossible-to-read handwriting on documents with and without printed sections.  The print and handwriting fade in and out, disappear, blur, clear.  There is invisible ink on some of the pages.  Perhaps the originals were faded when microfiche images were made; perhaps the microfiche images  faded over time; perhaps the microfiche was moved before the photocopy was finished.  It doesn't matter because it's what I have to work with.  The dates are barely legible.  I don't want to transcribe it.  I just finished wading through and transcribing John Froman's 1872 file that had fewer pages.  I'm not ready to delve into another handwritten, nearly illegible file.  I feel disheartened by this file's condition.

But I browse through the pages, glance at some of the clearer writing, find that some things are legible.  I see
->    ". . . my share $900 dollars and John Froman is 1200 dollars . . ." and
->    ". . . Catharine Sailor intermarried with John Froman . . ."

I realize that this is my family.  I am somewhat encouraged.  I know I should want to discover all I can about these ancestors of mine, and I do, but I want it to be easy. 

Browsing through the file again I find that it's a complicated one (and there's another part to it which I did not order).  Jacob Sailor died testate but the file was processed in the Orphans Court (I assume) because he had minor children by his second wife and was guardian of a female named "Elizabeth Dehl now Stahl."  The file was opened in 1870 and continued into 1873.  It was laid to rest for 18 years and reopened  in 1891 when Jacob's youngest son, Otto, was at least 21 years of age.

During the intervening years, in 1883, Mary E. Sailor, Jacob's second wife and administratrix, died.  Peter Sailor, Jacob's oldest son by his second wife, became the administrator.

I see that the children are named in several places and that the females' spouses are also named, along with living locations.  I see that some of the later pages are typewritten and there's a typewritten transcription of Jacob's will.

I know I will not be able to read and/or transcribe every page but there is enough in the file that I can claim Jacob Saylor as my great-great-great-grandfather.  I believe, if I give careful attention to detail, that I will be able to determine the names of many of Jacob's children by his first wife, their married names, and therefore may find death records for them.  The death records may/should/could give me his first wife's name.

I hope that after scanning and manipulating the images for lightness, darkness, and/or contrast I may be able to decipher more of the writing that is faded and disappearing and learn more about the life of my ancestor, Jacob Sailor.

I am encouraged.  The adventure continues.


© 2014, Copyright Nancy Messier. All rights reserved.


  1. If I were you, I'd start with the easy pages first, just to feel like I've done something and have accomplished something. Then I'd move on to less readable pages. I usually find that once I've lived with a document awhile and have gotten used to the handwriting, it gets easier to decipher what once seemed like chicken scratch. I also work with a magnifying glass. You might also try scanning a page so you can enlarge on the computer. Anyway, it sounds like the file will reveal some great stuff. (This is the expensive one, right?)

    1. Thank you for suggesting to do some easy pages first, Wendy. In fact, I think I'll do some of the ones that I know have family names first and leave the nearly-unreadable inventories after. And yes, I'll scan so I can play with lightness, contrast, etc. Yes, this is the expensive one (at least to me!).

  2. The Orphans Court in Pennsylvania is simply the equivalent of the Probate Court in other states. All probate matters are handled through this court whether minor children are involved or not.

    1. Thank you for that information, Michael. I did not realize that all probate matters went through the Orphans Court in Pennsylvania. That's great to know!

  3. Argh! So close but so far too! That's always a mixed bag...they are found, but you can't get the story squeezed out of the pages without a big bunch of extra effort. But maybe that's why we do this craziness...because there's always a little more to chase :)
    Kassie aka Mom

    1. Yes, you're right, Kassie. I do love the chase, especially when I find something at the end. And I do truly want more than just names, dates, and relationships. It's all worth it in the end -- just challenging in the middle.


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