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Archive for September, 2010

One of the most surprising things to me so far in my genealogical research was discovered in the trove of family papers I was given this summer (see a recent post for more information on the trove).  There was a clipping of my grandparents’ wedding announcement, which firstly, showed why I’d never been able to find their wedding record; they had been married in a different state than the one they lived in.  But the big shock was that my grandmother was referred to by a married name.  Only upon my discovery of this did my father say, Oh, yes, she was married before and divorced her first husband; she left him because he was an alcoholic.  This kind of thing is why, when it comes to my father’s side of the family, when I find out something major that I was never told, I’m always unsure at first whether I wasn’t told because they simply never told me, or because they themselves were never told about it.

So I ordered the divorce record from the court that heard divorce hearings then (as they still do today).  They asked me to send them a postal letter with the information I knew.  The wedding announcement didn’t mention the first husband’s name, so I just called him “Mr. XYZ” in my letter.  I included the fact that my grandmother has been dead a long time (she was my first grandparent to die; they’ve all been dead for a while now, as has my step-grandmother), in case they cared, since some repositories do.  I also included my phone number and email address, as I do with all my postal letters to repositories.  They got the letter very fast – after just a couple postal days, though it’s a good distance away – and called me when they received it.  They said they found one record that might be the correct people and asked me if Mr. XYZ (they couldn’t find a first name on the record either) had moved to North Carolina.  I told them that I had no idea, but that the name and address of the woman matched my grandmother’s.  The case was only two pages long, so they told me they’d waive the 20 cent fee if I would just send a SASE with a note with the case number, which they read to me over the phone.

I received it quite quickly and read over the entire thing twice this week.  According to the case, the man had regularly left my grandmother and had been “continuously” living away from her for several months by the time she filed for divorce, so she filed on grounds of abandonment.  (Note that this neither supports nor disputes the family story that he was an alcoholic.)  His address was indeed listed as being in North Carolina at the time the case was filed.  After several months passed without him so much as responding to the case, the divorce was by default granted to her.   The case had an abbreviated first name for Mr. XYZ (I don’t blame the court researchers for not realizing it; it was difficult to see) and I have used his full name to try to do a search for him, but have yet to find anything that clearly seems to be him in either North Carolina or the city where he and my grandmother had lived.  For now, he remains a puzzle.

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I have spent a fair amount of the past couple weeks talking on the phone to one of the researchers at the Probate Court of Hamilton County, Ohio.  We first talked because I discovered a memorandum stuck in a will indicating that the woman’s spouse’s (Sarah’s spouse Thomas) estate had been contested by some of the children and then the case had been settled in a very mysterious and as yet inexplicable way.  (I’d requested a copy of the will from the archives at the University of Cincinnati; quite opposite of the Probate Court, their will request is no-frills and straightforward – print out a form from their website, fill it in with the information for each person from the index on their site, and mail it in with a fee of $15 per will, which they will return to you if they can’t find what you request.  My request for Sarah’s and Thomas’s wills, as well as the will of an in-law of theirs, was one of the most promptly filled genealogical requests I’ve ever made.  Of course, a big part of why it’s so straightforward is because they have exactly one file for each person and simply copy the whole thing and send it to you.)

The memorandum really sharply reminded me of the benefit of not making assumptions; when I read in the will in question that the daughters had renounced their claim to the estate, I’d figured – with no substantiation at all beyond the fact that it’s the most common reason – that the daughters had quitclaimed on their rights to Thomas’ estate.  It was only when I got to the memorandum, stuck inbetween the codicils to Sarah’s will, that I realized that this was in absolutely no way the correct interpretation of events, and got my first real inkling into how the family had ended up embroiled in a murder case, with one of the sons (it was the 3 surviving sons who had contested the will) killing the husband of one of the daughters (the 2 surviving daughters and their husbands were the ones who’d given up the fight and settled the case).

The memorandum mentions a specific case number, so I was hopeful that I would be able to find documents about the case.  However, this has proved to be much more of a wild goose chase than I expected.  I first talked to the Probate Court, and they said that the number doesn’t really match up with their numbering system.  They looked anyway, but couldn’t find a copy of the case.  The researcher suggested that I try the Clerk of Courts, as she said that at the time period such a case might have been heard in either court.  The researcher at the Clerk of Courts also said that the number didn’t sound right because it wasn’t prefixed by an “A,” and additionally that she thought records from the time period had been destroyed anyway.  But she told me she’d check and call me back.  When she did, she said that all the records from that time had been destroyed in a fire and the earliest case they have (“A” issue notwithstanding) is a later number than the one on my document.  She then suggested that I call the Historical Society and see if they had made a copy of the case prior to the fire.  I’ve been waiting to receive documents from the Probate Court, so I haven’t followed up with the Historical Society yet.

The researcher at the Probate Court is very dedicated and she’s been calling me once or twice a week to check in about what kinds of documents I’m looking for (luckily for  me, the family I’m researching in this post left prolific amounts of documentation) and update me on the search for the MIA case. On Thursday (it’s now the Sunday of Labor Day weekend) she told me she was going to finish researching and copying records and call me back at the end with a total; I haven’t heard from her yet.  They’ll need to receive my money order before they’ll send the records they’ve copied.  Once I receive the records, I’ll review them and see whether contacting the Historical Society is warranted.  I remain so glad the memorandum about Thomas’ probate was stuck in with Sarah’s will; what with how elusive the case file has been, if not for that bit of fortune, I might never have found out that the case existed at all.

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