Monday, July 7, 2014

The Best Thing About An Intestate Court File

The best thing about an intestate court file is that all siblings are identified; and so are the children of deceased siblings.  Perhaps it was a legal requirement that all children be accounted for so that no one would miss out on a potential inheritance.  Or perhaps it isn't true in call intestate court files, just in mine.

At right is a page from Catherine (Saylor) Froman's intestate file in the Orphan's Court of Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  (You can click to enlarge it and read more easily.)  Not only does it give the names of the children but it also tells where they lived at the time the case was opened.

Catherine (Saylor) Froman is my paternal great-grandmother's mother.  The line goes like this, beginning with my father:  Lee Doyle -> Gust Doyle -> Tressa (Froman) Doyle -> Catherine (Saylor) Froman.

I had already discovered the names of all Catherine's children in her husband John Froman's intestate court file.  The children were young when Catherine became a widow but by the time Catherine died all the daughters had married and their married surnames are given in this file. 

Catherine's oldest son, John, or J. F. Froman as he signed in the file, was appointed the administrator in Catherine's case.  Initially he was required to post $100.00 bond but later, before the sale of Catherine's part of a house, he was required to post $2100.00 bond which he did, in part, with his brother-in-law William Doyle and nephew Gust Proud.  The money was returned when the case was closed and John had fulfilled all of his administrator's responsibilities.

One of the unfortunate circumstances of  intestate court files is that there may be nothing to inherit.  I can't help but wonder if, nearing the end of her life, the deceased person knew she had nothing of value to pass on to her children, thought it not worth the time, effort, and cost to make a will.

Catherine's debts included a cemetery lot ($141.00); digging a grave ($10.00); funeral director ($340.00); flowers ($3.50); headstone (estimated cost $200.00); expenses of administration ($150.00).  Total of debts $844.50.  Others were listed in an earlier document in the file.

The inventory on Catherine's personal property included only one $50.00 Liberty Loan bond.  Her real property was three-fourths (originally stated as half but amended in later papers) of a house and the land on which it sat, appraised at a value of $1050.00 and sold to her second son, Jacob, for that amount.  The money was to be used to pay her debts.  Jacob's siblings all signed agreement to the sale.  Before the sale John was required to post notices and advertise the private sale in a local newspaper.

From what I can tell from census records, Catherine and her son, Jacob, lived in the same house on Linden Street.  It would make sense that Jacob's siblings would want him to have the house instead of having it sold by auction to a non-family member. 

This brings me to another great thing about this intestate file.  There are two "Joinders" on which each of Catherine's children and the children of her deceased daughter had to sign their names.  I now have two signatures of my great-grandmother Tressa (Froman) Doyle.  In both she spelled her name Tressa.  Tressa's husband, William, also signed his name in several places.  It's true the copy is not dark but it's clear enough to see Tressa's and William's signatures.

Catherine Froman died on December 20, 1928.  Her case was opened on July 1, 1929 and closed on April 7, 1930.  An intestate court case seems to require more attention and time from the administrator than when a will is probated.  I imagine the trips John and possibly others made from Stoneboro to the Courthouse in Mercer; the signatures he had to obtain from his siblings; arranging for the home and property to be appraised; and taking care of notices and advertisements in the newspaper -- details and responsibilities all fulfilled to the court's satisfaction.

This intestate court case of Catherine's was processed almost 50 years after the case of her husband, John.  It's amazing the difference a typewriter made -- no transcription needed other than what I wanted to add to RootsMagic.  Though 50 years apart, the process was similar and, for a family historian, the results fruitful.

If you've used intestate court files before what was your experience in finding family history information?


© 2014 Copyright by Nancy Messier. All rights reserved.


  1. I attended a workshop about wills and learned that being the executor or administrator carried heavy responsibility. The list of debts is always interesting.

  2. Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you, Jana. What an honor to be included. I appreciate it.


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