01 May 2013

Is It Ancient History and Does it Matter?

There are times when I wonder if everything I locate in my research is something I should necessarily blog or write about. Sometimes even when one hundred years have past, relatives might not be too happy to find out certain things about their ancestors. It's one thing to find out your great-grandparents "had to get married." It's another to learn your great-great-grandpa tried to cheat his dying sister out of half her inheritance.

The problem is that I think just about every court record is interesting and has a story to tell--either about the individuals involved, or about the records and the legal process. One court case I'm reading through right now involves a land-owning father who died intestate in 1913. Within a few months of his death, an adult single daughter died without any descendants of her own. A year later, another daughter, this one married with no children and an apparent "no-good" husband, also dies.The quick succession of deaths of several individuals with no descendants before the estate of the father is settled sets up an interesting scenario.

This married daughter had been sick for some time before her death and (according to court documents) did not have the funds to provide for her care. In the months after her father's 1913 death, she sells her interest in her father's real estate to her brother. The problem is that she sells her interest for less than half what it is worth.

When the married daughter dies, there is not enough money left over to pay her the various expenses incurred during her illness. There would have been enough money according to court records if her brother had paid her what the farm was worth--or even a remotely reasonable price.

The end result in this is that there were essentially two lawsuits filed. The first was the widow and three of her daughters suing the brother to have the deed set aside. The second was the creditors of the deceased married daughter suing all the heirs of the married daughter--also to have the deed set aside.

I'm glossing over a few of the legal details here, but the point is: should I write about this in full when it looks like (on the surface at least) the brother stiffed his dying sister out of over half of her inheritance?

It's all a matter of public record and most likely was known by the family at the time. They all were involved in both lawsuits. I'm inclined to lay out the information as it is stated in the record. The issues of property ownership, inheritance, and "fairness" all come to play in these two court cases. Not to mention they list all the heirs scattered among four states.

I think once I have a few of the additional details about the case ironed out to my satisfaction, I will write about it. The records are ones that are public and it is not like I discovered a long-lost, secret diary in an old trunk in the attic containing unknown revelations that are scandalous.

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