52 Ancestors Week 9: At the Courthouse

+18 votes

imageReady for Week 9 of the 52 Ancestors challenge?

You're encouraged to share a profile of an ancestor or relative who matches the week's theme. This week's sharing prompt:


From Amy Johnson Crow:

What neat discoveries have you made at the courthouse? Or, do you have an ancestor who spent a lot of time at the courthouse, either as an official or as someone who ran afoul of the law? 

Share below!

Participants who share every week can earn badges. Click here for more about the challenge and how to participate.

If this is your first time participating, or you don't have the participation badge, please post here.

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.9m points)

74 Answers

+16 votes

My husband's grandfather, Clarence Marion Durham, owned an abstract office in Claremore, Oklahoma. United States for decades. My husband worked for him while he attended college and spent many hours in the courthouse looking up land records at the County Recorder's Office. 

by Deb Durham G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
edited by Deb Durham
+20 votes

My paternal great-great-grandfather George William Paul (the younger) was one of the first Judges in the new State of Queensland.  He does not have a Wikipedia page (but his HOUSE does). He does have a mention on the Supreme Court Library of Queensland site.

He was extremely well thought of and was regarded as a fair Judge (and, apparently, had a sense of humour not unlike my own).



This is my 9th week of participating; go me!

by Melanie Paul G2G6 Pilot (331k points)
And we come full circle and the mutton chops are back in style!  Love that robe too!
Mutton chops, indeed! Loved seeing this guy, Melanie.
+16 votes

Joseph Olmstead was very active in public office and was a judge for his area during his later years.  I put together a bio that outlined his service.  Hartford records are pretty detailed so it was great to be able to track is activity.
by Eric McDaniel G2G6 Mach 4 (40.9k points)
+18 votes

My Great-Great Grandfather, Charles Wesley Allison, was a Justice of the Peace for over 28 years.

by Bill Sims G2G6 Pilot (119k points)
+16 votes

I've been thinking about what to share this week for "At the Courthouse". I haven't been to one. So, to mix it up this week I decided to talk about people I want to check out if I ever go to a courthouse. For innocent reasons, of course.

Here's one reason I'd like to go. Check out the profile for Francesco Papatolo. He's the son of my 2X great-grandmother's sister, Concetta. He traveled with his family from San Pietro a Maida to Haverhill. Family legend has it that he did something in Haverhill when he got older and was shipped back to San Pietro without his wife and kids. 

My great-aunt told me the story and it was confirmed by his descendants. Mary Louise ended up raising the kids by herself and they did pretty well all things considered. Francesco in the mean time died in San Pietro in 1983. He apparently remarried and the family never saw him again.

It makes me wonder what he did and I bet I would find something about it at the Haverhill court house. My great-aunt doesn't remember. I mean she's 95 and it happened so long ago. The descendants don't know, either. It's just one of those mysteries, I guess. All I have to do is go to the next town over and figure it out. It's really sad if you think about it. He was sent back and left his wife and children behind. =/

Another incentive to go check out Haverhill's courthouse is to check out the marriage of Caterina and Concetta's brother, Paolo. He was married there by a justice of the peace. This was his first wife, Lena. It would be interesting to check that out because the same justice of the peace handled a few other weddings in my family.

I hope next week is a more cheerful prompt!

by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (519k points)
If you can make it to Haverhill, do check out the statue of my ggm Hannah Dustin.
+17 votes

My 5x great-grandfather Joseph Mullins fought in the Revolutionary War under the command of George Washington and was at the surrender of Cornwallace.

Much of what we know about that part of the family comes from his pension affidavit.  In reading it, I see that he came to a Federal Courthouse to be deposed by three Federal Judges to determine if his case had merit (he had both of his signed discharge papers that he saved from the war and those went a long way towards proving his service).

by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)

Good heavens, SJ! That is quite wonderful research, right down to his signed discharge papers!

+16 votes

Finding the deeds at the courthouse turned out to be easier than finding the actual property!  My great-great grandfather Morrison Wright and his son, my great-grandfather Fletcher Wright,  purchased land in Northern Michigan at Hanover Township, Wexford County, Michigan in the late 1880's, but didn't stay long. 

A few years ago when in the area, I visited the Register of Deeds office and found the deeds and property descriptions.  I then wanted to see what the area was like. Finding it seemed quite straightforward as Fletcher's farm abutted what is today a main road and Morrison's should be just down the side road a bit. This according to the township map I found in the Wexford County Atlas dating to the period they lived there.

Except we couldn't seem to find the corner.  We finally realized the cross road we were searching for looked like someone's driveway.  Then, instead of going through to where Morrison's property should be, it just dead ended in the woods. 

We then tried going on down the main road to approach from the other direction.  Quickly we discovered that the roads turned into sandy two-tracks that would be better approached with an ORV (Off road vehicle).

Fletcher's farm is now part of the Pere Marquette State Forest planted to a pine plantation and the area of Morrison's farm is now a lake with cottages that was created from damming a stream.  Definitely not farmland today!

I can understand why they didn't stay there that long after seeing the area first hand.

by Jill Perry G2G6 Mach 4 (41.4k points)
Northern Michigan is quite lovely, but I wouldn't want to farm there.
+14 votes

My great uncle T. Lee Witcher was an attorney in Canon City, Fremont, Colorado, so I expect he spent time in the Courthouse.  He was District Attorney of Canon City, Colorado from 1917-1925. In the year 1925 he was elected Mayor. He served until the end of his term in 1931. While he was Mayor he dedicated the Royal Gorge Bridge (which coincidently my grandfather, Lee's brother, helped to survey and engineer for).

by Robin Shaules G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
+15 votes

This always struck me as interesting-according to secondary sources, my 5th great-grandfather, William Whitten, served as a justice of the peace and county treasurer when he lived in Coshocton County, Ohio.  Despite all that, the man somehow passed away intestate (unfortunately for this genealogist, but I think, based on names and census records for his children, he's a relative of the Massachusetts Whittens/Whettens).

by K. Anonymous G2G6 Pilot (129k points)
K., is he related to Chris Whitten, the man who founded WikiTree?
I'm not sure-William is one of my brick walls (as are a lot of my Ohio ancestors thanks to being from a 'burned county' and/or not leaving a solid record of which state they'd come from before starting on their journey west).  I think he's one of the Massachusetts Whittens, or else just has a lot coincidentally in common with them re: first names and location.
+15 votes

I have not put this on WikiTree yet because I have so many court documents to go through yet.

My 2nd great aunt Agnes Sarah "Sadie" (Hunt) Barnhart married and had three sons. Her youngest son, Jerome Barnhart

supposedly born after she was divorced from her husband and was rumored to have been the son of her father. Jerome was sent to Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic was an institution for mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern Pennsylvania located in Spring City. After a century of controversy, it closed on December 9, 1987.

Jerome escaped/ran away from Pennhurst and was never found.

His grandfather, George Martin Hunt had left a substantial amount to Jerome in his will.

Others in the family, cousins and aunts and uncles filed a lawsuit to collect the money that was left to Jerome. His mother was now living in Philadelphia with her son Roman and did not appear in court for any of the proceedings. One of the first things they needed to have done is to have Jerome declared as deceased. The judge wanted to speak with his mother but once the attorney that was in charge of the estate at the bank told the judge the circumstances the judge asked the attorney to write to her and see if she has heard anything about the where abouts of Jerrome. She did respond with she had no knowledge and never heard from her son after his escape from Pennhusrt. The court declared him deceased. Then the court proceeded with the claims for the part of the estate that was to go to Jerome.

by Louann Halpin G2G6 Mach 6 (62.6k points)
How tragic.
+14 votes
Insanity declarations in the Transylvania County Courthouse! Late 1800s and early 1900s. I had to expand my definition of Insanity to figure out just exactly what was going on.
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
That must have been heart-breaking, Pip. Definitions of "insanity" varies thoughout history.
True that, Maggie! Insanity in many of the cases I saw at the courthouse include people who were not insane, but feeble minded and could not take care of themselves. It did not mean insane in the clinical sense.
+20 votes

 My first cousin 3 times removed Robert Bruce Irwin was charged with Fornication and Bastardy in 1878. He latter married the lady, and they had 6 more children. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Irwin-2181#

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (530k points)
edited by Alexis Nelson
Those papers must have been something to find, Alexis.
Actually a second cousin, Lynn Bensy, sent them to me. He is her great grandfather, and now she is doing 52 Photos and 52 Ancestors. I have only gotten to know her though this, and she is turning into a great friend.
Thanks, Alexis!  If not for you, I'd not even be participating in Wikitree, let alone these challenges.  I'm so glad we are related!!

As for finding those papers:  I was quite curious about why the whole rest of that generation of the Irwin family had stayed around the ancestral home in Indiana County, Pa., but MY grandmother was born in Ohio and grew up there.  So I went looking for the reason why her parents moved to Ohio.

I did manage to hook up (through a DNA match) with an unknown 4th or 5th cousin, and she told me about a FB page for the extended Irwin family of that line.  It was headed by an older cousin, who had traveled to the local county courthouses in Pa to do research with her mom and aunts, back in the 50's and 60's, LONG before the internet existed.  She was thrilled that I "found" her, because she said that my great grandfather had been "lost", and that I was the "missing link".
Prior to that, I had found some vague reference on an internet genealogy board, that Bruce (he went by Bruce) may have had another child with a woman named Jenny.  So I began to snoop around.  I found a notice in an old newspaper that he had been sued for "F&B" (fornication and bastardy) in 1878 by my grandmother!  Together, they had a daughter named Emma Jane in 1877.   Lo and behold, in 1878 in the next county over, Bruce also had a daughter with a woman named Eugenia Webster (Jenny). That child was named Maud Emmaline Irwin.  Maud always went by the last name of Irwin, even tho she was adopted by a Knox family.   Bruce was listed as her dad in her obit and her death certificate.  Whether she ever saw him or not, I have no idea.

Emma and her mom, Sarah, (my great grandmother), lived with Sarah's parents, until in 1879, Bruce showed up in their doorstep to see the baby, and pulled a revolver on Sarah's mom, because she would not let him in.   He was arrested for assault, and needless to say, he was persona non grata in that household from then on. In 1880, he was found living in a boarding house in WV, and working in a sawmill.  Sarah was found, at the same time, to be living in a boarding house in the next county over from her parents, and Emma, the baby, remained with Sarah's parents.  She was raised there, married there, and lived the rest of her life there, never joining her parents and siblings in Ohio. I don't even know if her siblings were aware of her.

Sarah and Bruce married in Indiana County, Pa in 1882, and shortly afterwards, moved to Ohio, where they proceeded to have 7 more children, one of whom was my grandmother.

 I eventually went to the courthouse in Indiana, Pa, and looked for the records.  A wonderful, genealogy-minded records clerk there, took an interest in my story, and helped me find the old dusty books in the basement. I have copies of the F&B and also the arrest for assault.
+16 votes

The digitised newspapers on Trove are a great place to find Australian ancestors who visited the courthouse. 

I found my great great grandfather John McCarthy and his brother Michael McCarthy, along with a few friends, were charged with "creating a disturbance in High Street" in Heathcote, Victoria, in March 1872. "As it did not appear that they interfered with anyone not in company with them and they bear a good general character, they were discharged with a caution."

This is my blog this week:

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Week 9 - At the Courthouse - John McCarthy

by A O'Brien G2G6 Mach 1 (13.8k points)
+16 votes

Rural central Texas is where I call home and I have vivid memories of the Hill County Courthouse. 

Hill County Texas Courthouse

It is very prominent in the relatively flat landscape and served as a beacon for car traveling that we were close to home. 

I can recall going to fairs centering around the surrounding square, and staring up at it in wonder when we drove past. It was the fanciest building around for quite a ways. Going inside to pay property taxes or take care of random business with my parents was the absolute best (for me, at least lol).

The New Years Day fire in 1993 is also etched into my memory. Some of you might know that a certain Texas country music star named Willie Nelson is from just down the road. He came out and played a big benefit concert to help rebuild and restore the courthouse. It took them six years to rebuild and was fascinating to watch evolve over the years. 

by Patricia Ferdig G2G6 Mach 3 (34.0k points)
+12 votes
Levi Aldes Dyer spent a lot of time in a Courthouse. Family folklore suggests Levi was hot tempered and a bit of a scoundrel. A story passed down in my husband's family indicates Levi was shot to death for cheating at cards.  The records indicated a very inept thief who in later life joined the circus!

by Judith Brandau G2G6 Mach 1 (11.5k points)
+12 votes

The Chancery Court, where estate disputes go to get resolved, has turned out to be one of my best genealogy tools.  And that was definitely the case with William Wood  of Anne Arundel County MD. When William died in 1804 without a will, his heirs needed to sell his properties in order to distribute the estate and their chancery case clearly laid out William's 12 children as well as the grandchildren whose parents had pre-deceased William.  Really a genealogist's treasure trove!  

For more detail, see my blog post at #52 Ancestors Week 9: Settling the Estate of William Wood

by Anne Agee G2G6 Mach 1 (12.6k points)
+12 votes

This is week seven for me I think.  Family research is a great mechanism for learning about times past and the social classes.  I have often got quite excited by having a 'Lawyer' in the family, usually hand-written on a marriage certificate, only to realise that the person is actually a 'Sawyer.'  Sawyer, being a manual occupation, often in a rural setting, is much more in line with the many builders, carpenters, farmers and agricultural /general labourers in the family!

The most usual connection my family members have to the courthouse is through the probate courts.  Most of the family wills have been very straightforward, where everything is left to the spouse or children and uncontested, but the following made for more interesting reading.

My family married into the Pittard family and the Pittards have turned out to have led very complicated lives.  Alfred Edwin Pittard, for example, turned out to be a bigamist.  This fact was not discovered during his life as he had one wife in England (actually the Channel Islands, so somewhat remote) and another in New York.  Neither lady knew of the other until his estate was going through its probate.  His 'second' wife in New York Aletha Pittard must have been quite amazed by the legal challenge to her deposition that Alfred had died intestate, filed at Surrogate's Court for Kings County, New York. His 'first' wife Henrietta Pittard challenges this and produced the will he had written leaving his possessions to her and various close family members.  The court documents are fascinating.

by Linda Hawkes G2G6 Mach 3 (37.6k points)
+11 votes
I haven't made any genealogy discoveries at an actual courthouse, but I do rely heavily on online wills and probate documents to establish or verify the relationships of my ancestors. I've been able to add many family members to my tree, particularly my Miell and Perkins ancestors in England, because they were mentioned in an ancestor's will.

I also have many early American ancestors who served on juries and grand juries, along with many who were justices of the peace.
by Traci Thiessen G2G6 Pilot (236k points)
+13 votes
My 2d great-grandpa William Sears-2477 had three boys who had a disagreement about his will. Probate court ruled with my grt-grandpa Elkanah Howes Sears-2478 but our family made the front page of the Barnstable Patriot-  just recently stumbled on this story while searching the newly scanned and internet available Barnstable Patriot.  

FEBRUARY, 1897.  Will- of William Sears of East Dennis Admitted to Probate. An interesting contested will case was tried In the Probate Court at Barnstable Tuesday. William Sears of East Dennis died last October, at the ripe old age of 88 years. He was a cooper by trade, and had amassed a comfortable competence for his old age. (his wife died 20 years ago, and his son, Isaac B. Sears, went to live with him. For a time they had a housekeeper, but soon Isaac was married and brought his wife to the old homestead. A little girl was born, and Miss Ruth became a favorite of her grandfather. There were two other sons, William G. Sears and Elkanah Sears, who were married and had lived close by. In the winter of 1886 Isaac B. Sears was evicted by process of law, and set up housekeeping of his own. He claimed that William G. and Elkanah had turned the old man against him. William G. Sears and his wife then went to live with the father, and continued to do so until his death. In July, 1886, the father, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. William G. Sears, drove to Yarmouth. They stopped on the way to get two relatives as witnesses, and then went to Judge Swift's house to ask him to draw up the old gentleman's will. Mr. Swift was not at home, and they requested his father, Editor Charles F. Swift, of the Yarmouth Register, to draw the will. "I don't know anything about drawing wills," said Editor Swift, "but if you will run the risk I will do so," and the will was drawn. This will practically gives the property to William G. Sears and Elkanah Sears, cuts Miss Ruthie off without a cent, and leaves Isaac only the 'life use of some salt works. Isaac contests on the ground of undue influence. The principal witness for the contestant was Mrs. Thomas Sears of East Dennis, who testified that she was the widow of the testator's brother, and had known the testator all his life. The testator used to constantly visit her, almost daily for years. He was a quiet, weak minded man, of a retiring disposition. He made u confident of her. He told her the will was in William G. Sears's possession in his bed room; that he wanted Isaac and Ruthie to have a share; that Isaac was the most affectionate of his boys; that he didn't will his property as he wanted to; that he couldn't do what he wished; that he was treated shamefully by Mr. and Mrs. William G. Sears, Who didn't supply him with proper nourishment, wouldn't give him any money, tried to make him believe his property was all gone, and even made him wash his clothes in cold water. Isaac B. Sears testified to conversations with his father, and that his father was ill-treated in his last sickness, and Dr. Cummings of Brewster, whom he called to attend him, not allowed in the house. There was other testimony of conversations in which the old man spoke affectionately of Isaac. In rebuttal, Dr. Maude E. S. Powell, who attended the old gentleman in his last sickness, testified that he had proper medical treatment. Judge Harriman sustained the will, and the contestant appealed. H. H. Baker, Jr., appeared for Isaac B. Sears, and Smith K. Hopkins and T. C. Day for the executors.
by L. Ray Sears G2G6 Mach 4 (43.1k points)

BTW the "old homestead" was built in 1805 by William's father Elkanah Sears who was a Revolutionary War patriot!  Still stands at 51 School St, Quivet Neck, East Dennis, Barnstable, Massachusetts but alas no longer in the family.  It is a traditional full Cape center staircase and chimney, eyebrow window, faces south even though School St is to the east!

+11 votes

For this week's challenge I chose my 5x great grandfather John Knox who was the first judge in Seneca County New York and an early settler of Waterloo, New York.  

by Caryl Ruckert G2G6 Pilot (192k points)

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