Saturday, May 29, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Probate Records - Estates

[NOTE: For more general information about probate records, please see earlier post]

Estates are the most common kind of case in probate records. Estate cases deal with the aftermath of someone's death--the paying off of any debts they had and then the distribution of any assets that are left over.

An estate case usually started with someone stating to the probate court that the person had died; thus, estates are a great way for researchers to verify someone's death, particularly when dealing with the period before death records were kept in Indiana. Pictured: an affidavit stating that someone had died in 1855 (bonus information: the person making the affidavit even states what their relationship was to the deceased).

Sometimes the person had written a will before they died, declaring how they wanted their real estate and personal assets to be distributed and often naming someone to take care of the distribution. This person is known as the executor (male) or executrix (female). Even if there was a will, those cases still had to go through probate court--their will would be entered as part of the probate record and if no one contested the will's validity, the executor/executrix would start the distribution of assets and make a report to the court of the final settlement.

If the person did not write a will before they died, someone would have to petition the court to be appointed as the administrator (male) or administratrix (female) of their estate. They had to swear an oath to the court to perform their legal obligations, and take out a bond for double the amount of the estate's estimated worth (so if the estate was valued at $500, the bond would be for $1000). At least one other person had to be the "surety" on the bond, assuming legally responsibility for paying that money if the administrator/administratrix was found to be derelict in their legal duties. The administrator was then granted Letters of Application. [Note: Sometimes in an estate case you may see a reference to an administrator "de bonis non"--this is someone who has taken over as administrator due to the death, resignation, etc. of the previous administrator].

An inventory was taken of all of the deceased's personal property, as well as any real estate that they owned. The Inventory included an estimate of the value of each item and can also give you some clues about their profession (for example, ladders and paintbrushes for someone who was a house painter). The administrator would then arrange a public sale, and present a Sale Bill to the court, showing how much each item had sold for and who had bought it (often neighbors and relatives bought the items). The widow had the right to take 1/3 of her husband's assets and the Sale Bill would reflect which of the items had been taken by the widow. Pictured: an inventory from 1870.
Indiana law established a minimum value that an estate had to be in order to go through the probate process. For example, in 1866 it was $300; by the 1870's, it was $500. If the value of that estate was below that minimum, the widow could receive all the assets directly. When someone petitioned to have this law applied to an estate, an appraisal of all the deceased's real estate and personal property was taken, to verify the value. Pictured: a widow's application from 1879.

In a time when people rarely had ready access to cash, IOUs were a common form of currency, and thus are often found in estate cases, as all the people that the deceased owed money to submitted their claims for payment to the probate court. Conversely, any IOUs the deceased had in their possession from other people are also part of the estate. Pictured: an IOU from 1832, where the deceased had promised to pay $30 at 12.5% interest.

A bill from a doctor for their care during the last sickness can also be found in the estate case. The dates of their visits and the medicines they prescribed can give you an insight into their patient's health. Pictured: a doctor's bill from 1828 [NOTE: the patient has "Dr" after their name; this is not an indication of a medical profession, but of them being the Debtor--the person who owes money].

A bill for the purchase of a tombstone (usually months or even years after the death) is also a common part of the estate case. Sometimes the bill would include the details of the inscription to be added - a wonderful detail particularly since that tombstone may not be legible or even still exist today. Pictured: a bill for a tombstone purchase in 1859, complete with the sad verse to be added (at 2 cents extra per letter).

If the deceased own land, it would go through partition--a legal term for the equitable division of the land among the heirs. Inheritance laws, not the court, determined who was considered an heir. Pictured: an entry from an 1897 probate order book showing how a parcel of land had been partitioned.

If the land could not be divided, or if there was not enough cash on hand to pay all the debts, the administrator could petition the court to sell the land. If that still wasn't enough to pay all the debts, the court would label the estate as "insolvent" and pay each of the creditors a fraction of what they were owed.

If there was something left over after all the debts had been paid, the administrator would distribute the remaining assets among the deceased's heirs before making a final report to the court and being discharged from their duties.

Some estate cases took years to settle, leaving behind a large paper trail. Volunteers who are working on the Indiana Genealogical Society's project for Hendricks County probate records have already discovered an estate case that began in 1872 and did not end until 1897.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Probate Order Books Database Updated

Entries from Hendricks County Probate Order Book Volume 22 (21 April 1899 - 20 April 1900) have been added to the database Index to Hendricks County Probate Order Books, which is on the Hendricks County GenWeb site. This index includes the subject of the probate case, the type of case (estate, guardianship, etc.) and the corresponding book and page number. It is an ongoing project--so far it covers the years 1825-1844 and 1899-1918.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Probate Records

When Indiana formally became a state in 1816, it did so with a circuit court in each county. That court had jurisdiction for probate cases. Then in 1829, state law provided for the creation of a probate court in each county, separate from the circuit court. These probate courts remained in existence until 1853, when Indiana law replaced them with a Court of Common Pleas in each county. This court was responsible for hearing probate cases, but could also handle divorces, naturalizations, and criminal cases for small infractions.

Courts of Common Pleas existed in Indiana until 1873, and were then abolished. In most counties, the responsiblity for probate cases then reverted back to the circuit courts, where it is unchanged to this day. However, Marion County (Indianapolis), Vanderburgh County (Evansville) and St. Joseph County (South Bend) have established their own probate courts over the years to help with the caseloads.

The most common types of probate cases are estates and guardianships. Estates are about someone who has died (or been declared dead)--the payment of any debts they had and then the distribution of any remaining assets among their legal heirs. Guardianships are often about minors (children under the age of 21) who are legal heirs to an estate, but they can also be about adults, especially if the person has been found to be of an "unsound mind" or "insane," thus legally incapable of managing their own affairs. Like other kinds of court records, probate records are a great way for researchers to prove relationships between people, especially female ancestors who may otherwise be "missing" from records.

There are different kinds of probate records:

Probate Order Books contain a brief summary written by the court clerk of what happened each time the probate case came to court. Entries in the order books are in chronological order by the court term (with some probate cases continuing for several terms). Pictured: a 1903 entry from a probate order book.

Complete Probate Books contain a summary of the probate case from beginning to end, as written by the court clerk. This summary was made only after the case was finished and was done for an additional court fee.

Probate Packets—also known as “loose papers,” they contain the original documents that were submitted to the court during the probate case—IOUs, receipts, affidavits, newspaper notices, etc. Pictured: a probate packet from 1844.

The Hendricks County Clerk's office has a Microfilm Department, located on the ground floor of the Hendricks County courthouse in Danville (next door to the Self-Service Legal Center--take the west entrance to the courthouse and then turn left). It has microfiche of Hendricks County court records (including probate packets) from the 1900's.

The Microfilm Department has an index to the microfiche on a card file, which they will search for you. NOTE: After the court records were put on microfiche, the papers were destroyed. Unfortunately, the images on the microfiche are not always clear. Pictured: an administrator's application from a 1924 estate case.

Hendricks County's probate packets for 1824 through the early 1900's are kept in the basement of the Hendricks County courthouse. The Indiana Genealogical Society has a project where volunteers are unfolding and organizing these papers, then digitizing them so they can eventually be put online as a free database for the public. The project is in progress--currently there are digital files for about 100 cases.

Hendricks County's Probate Order Books for 1825-1918 and Complete Probate Books for 1826-1905 have been microfilmed. That microfilm is available at the Family History Library, the Indiana State Library and also at the Plainfield library.

NOTE: Hendricks County's probate order books were numbered beginning with volume 1 in 1825, but when the Court of Common Pleas was created in 1853, that numbering started over again. So it's important to know not only the volume number, but what time period it referred to. For example, volume 1 covers 1825 to 1835, and volume 2 covers 1835 to 1839, but then there is the volume 1 that covers 1853 to 1856, the volume 2 that covers 1856 to 1860, etc.

The Archives on the Hendricks County Government website includes digital files of the probate order books for 1825-1847 and a partial file of the order book for 1850-1852. They are in the Judicial Archive section. Pictured: a page from an order book for 1839.

Many of the probate order books have an index at the front (see example). These indexes are separated by the letter of the last name but are not alphabetical--entries were made in the index at the time that the case went to court, so you may need to browse through all the entries under that letter in order to find the case you need.

The Hendricks County GenWeb site has a searchable Index to Hendricks County Probate Order Books. The index is in progress; it currently covers the volumes for 1825-1844 and 1900-1918.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teachers Database Updated

Entries from the 1953 school year have been added to the database Index to Teachers in Hendricks County Schools, which is on the Hendricks County GenWeb site. It is a list of all of the teachers in the county's schools, as published in area newspapers at the beginning of each school year by the county's schools superintendent. The list was comprised of the teacher's name and their location, and sometimes included the subjects they were teaching.

The database is an ongoing project--so far it covers the period of 1953-1963. 1963-1964 was the end of the Hendricks County schools system and the position of Hendricks County schools superintendent. Beginning in 1962, schools began dropping out of the county system in order to form their own school corporations. When the 1963 school year began, only 3 schools were left in the county system--Lizton, North Salem and Pittsboro (they would later form the Tri-West school corporation).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Avon Library Adds Heritage Room

The Avon-Washington Township Public Library recently finished construction on their Huron Heritage Room. The room is open Mondays 2 to 4 pm, Wednesdays 5:30 to 7:30 pm, and by appointment. It will focus on the history of Avon and Washington Township. They will hold a dedication/open house on Saturday, June 12 from 1 to 3 pm. The public is welcome.

Materials that relate to Avon or Washington Township are welcome, as are volunteers. For more information, please contact Susan Truax--phone (317) 272-4818, ext. 250.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Divorce Records

Divorce may have been more common than we realize. This headline from the November 18, 1909 issue of The Republican, a Danville newspaper, decried the prevalence of divorce. The article was about the results of a 5-year study done by the Census Bureau (at the behest of Congress) to report on the country's marriage rate.
The Census Bureau's report showed that from 1880 to 1900, the U.S. population had increased by 110%, but divorces had increased by 700%. Indiana had a higher ratio of divorce per 10,000 people of marriage age than her neighbors--among the highest in the country, in fact, second only to some of the territories in the West (see illustration).

Hendricks County was not immune to the divorce danger. Each year the county clerk issued a report of how many marriage licenses had been issued vs. how many divorce cases had been filed, and from that compiled a divorce rate. According to the January 4, 1912 issue of The Republican, 134 marriage licenses had been issued the previous year, and 27 divorce suits filed, for a divorce rate of over 20%. The newspaper called the figure "appalling" and blamed the law for allowing a boy to marry at 18 and a girl at 16 if they had their parents' consent--ages when they should just be finishing high school.

At least one Hendricks County judge tried to stem the tide. In the October 12, 1922 issue of The Republican, Judge Zimri E. Dougan (pictured) talked of the need to teach the sanctity of marriage in order to "remedy the divorce evil." He also admitted to slowing down the process of divorce cases that came before him, refusing to hear them until at least 60 days had passed, even though Indiana had no law requiring this. He claimed success, as many of the cases were withdrawn in the interim.

Divorce records can provide you with details of the marriage (including the date, place and the woman's maiden name). If there were any children involved, the records also may give you their full names and birthdates.

At some point, Hendricks County court records from the 1800's (including divorce records) were sent to the Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis. The Archives reportedly did not keep all of these records.

The Hendricks County Clerk's office has a Microfilm Department, located on the ground floor of the Hendricks County courthouse in Danville (next door to the Self-Service Legal Center--take the west entrance to the courthouse). It has Hendricks County court records (including divorce records) from the 1900's.

The Microfilm Department has an index to the microfiche on a card file, which they will search for you (pictured: a divorce petition from 1906). NOTE: The court records were put on microfiche and then the papers were destroyed. Unfortunately, the images on the microfiche are not always clear.

The Republican includes a Court Notes section in each issue, with a summary of the court cases that were on the docket (including divorce cases). The Hendricks County GenWeb site has in its Data section a searchable index to these divorce cases from The Republican--as of this writing, it covers the years 1891 through 1961. The area newspapers also sometimes included items on divorce cases, particularly when they were first filed.  The GenWeb site has transcriptions of a few of these newspaper items.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Marriage Records Database Updated

Entries from Hendricks County Marriage Book Volume 27 (27 August 1962 - 7 July 1964) have been added to the database Index to Hendricks County Marriage Books, which is on the Hendricks County GenWeb site. This index includes the names of the bride and groom, their date of marriage and the corresponding book and page number. It is an ongoing project--so far there are over 28,000 entries, covering the period of 1904-1964 as well as 1824-1848.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Land Records

Much of Indiana's land was surveyed using the rectangular survey system--a grid made up of a Township (which is numbered North or South from a fixed point, called the baseline) and a Range (which is numbered East or West from a fixed point, called the principal meridian). The baseline and principal meridian intersected at a point in Orange County (which is in the southern part of the state).

Each Township (not to be confused with a civil township, which was named--for example, Brown Township in Hendricks County) was made up of 36 numbered Sections. The Sections were numbered beginning in the northeast corner of the Township and then snaking left and right until ending in the southeast corner (see diagram, courtesy of Bureau of Land Management website).

A Section was 1 mile square and contained 640 acres. It was divided into quarter sections of 160 acres each. These quarter sections were referenced according to their direction on a compass--Northwest (NW), Northeast (NW), Southwest (SW) and Southeast (SE). The quarter section could also be further divided--for example, a half of it would be 80 acres; a quarter of it would be 40 acres.

When Indiana became a state in 1816, its land could be purchased from the federal government. These tracts of land were then subsquently bought and sold between individuals. The purchases from the federal government were made at General Land Offices (GLOs), with the nearest one to Hendricks County being in Crawfordsville. The Bureau of Land Management's website has a searchable database at which includes the Indiana land sales.

In a description of land, you usually work from right to left, as the description goes from the most specific to the most general.  For example, a piece of land might be described as being

"The NE 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Section 16 in T16N R1E"

First you would locate on a map where in Hendricks County Township 16 North and Range 1 East intersect. From this grid that is overlaid with the civil townships of the county, you can see that it is an area around Brownsburg, in the northeast part of the county.
Next, you would locate Section 16 within that grid. Find the southeast quarter of that section, and then focus on the northeast quarter of that.

The Hendricks County Recorder (located on the top floor of the Hendricks County Government Center in Danville, pictured) has the land records for 1825 to present. The records are in ledger-size (11 x 17) white books, which are hard to maneuver onto a photocopier. Luckily, at one point they went through and created a set of photocopies from these ledger-size books, at the same time reducing them to legal size (8 1/2 x 14). These legal-sized copies are in red binders whose numbers correspond exactly to their white ledger book counterparts. Also, these reduced pages can be easily detached from the red binders for copying.

Deed books do not have an index; rather, there is a separate set of books, called Grantee/Grantor indexes (see sample pages). A Grantee was the person buying the land; a Grantor was the person selling the land. Each land transaction is therefore listed twice in the Grantee/Grantor indexes--once under the buyer's name and once under the seller's name. These indexes are separated by the letter of the last name but are not alphabetical--entries were made at the time that a deed was recorded, so you may need to browse through all the entries under that letter in order to find the transaction.

Hendricks County's grantee/grantor indexes for 1826 through 1889, and Hendricks County deed books for 1825 through 1886, have been microfilmed.That microfilm is available at the Family History Library, the Indiana State Library and also at the Plainfield library. The County Seat Genealogical Society (now defunct) typed up the grantee/grantor indexes for 1826 through 1853--the Danville library and the Plainfield library have copies of this book, and you can also request a lookup from it in the Lookups section of the Hendricks County GenWeb.

Plat maps are a great visual tool for showing who owned a parcel of land at a particular time. For example, Family Maps of Hendricks County, Indiana by Gregory A. Boyd (part of Arphax Publishing's Family Maps series) shows the location of all the parcels that were purchased through the federal government, and then shows the location of those parcels on a modern road map. J.H. Beers & Co. of Chicago published Atlas of Hendricks County, Indiana in 1878, whichn included plat maps of each town and township (see example, showing part of their plat map for Center Township).

The Archives on the Hendricks County Government website includes digital copies of plat maps from the Hendricks County Assessor's office. These plat maps cover various dates from 1880 through 1940, and include a map of each section, as well as a listing of all the owners and the location and assessed value of their land. See examples of a plat map from 1880.
Unfortunately, deed books are only a transcription of the land transaction, done by a government official--it does not include the actual signatures of the buyer or seller. For that, you would need to get a hold of the original deed, which may have gotten passed down through the family. See example of an original deed from 1865--note how the signatures and the name of the buyer have been precisely cut out of the page (perhaps similar to how mortgages were mutilated or burned once the obligation had been met?).

One reason why genealogists like land records (besides the fact that they can help you locate where your ancestor lived and when exactly they moved into the area) is that they are a good source for finding out about female ancestors when they may otherwise not be named in records. For example, if a man was married when he sold his land, his wife also had to sign on the deed, because it meant she was legally giving up her right to what she would otherwise inherit if her husband died (known as "dower").

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

School Records Database Added

A new database, Graduates of Hendricks County Common Schools (1903), has been added to the Hendricks County GenWeb site. The database is an index of a ledger book of the 1903 graduates of the county's common schools (which went up to 8th grade), as found in the School section of the Hendricks County Archive Scans. The index includes some details about the students, including their age (the youngest graduate was 13; the oldest, 20). To see the full details, download the digital file from the Archive Scans site, or use their page-by-page viewer (best viewed in Internet Explorer)--the ledger book has the names of their teachers and even the grades that the students received.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Birth Records

Indiana law required counties to keep records of births beginning in 1882. In the 1930's, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) indexed Hendricks County's birth records for 1882 through 1920.  That WPA birth index (pictured here) has been converted into a searchable database, available at the Hendricks County site for the USGenWeb Project (see the Data section).

Indiana law specified that birth records were kept by the counties' respective health departments. The Hendricks County Health Department is located on the ground floor of the Hendricks County Government Center in Danville (pictured here).

The Hendricks County Health Department will issue you a copy of the birth information, which was typed onto a card (pictured is a birth record from 1912).

Beginning in October 1907, the counties also sent a copy of their birth information to the Indiana State Department of Health in Indianapolis. Pictured is their record for the same 1912 Hendricks County birth as above. The ISDH version of the birth record contains a few more items of information, including the time of the birth, the parents' occupations, the number of births and how many of those children were still living.

Even though the law was passed in 1882, the recording of births was still not commonplace in Indiana by the 1900's, particularly with most births occurring at home instead of at a hospital. By the 1940's, there were a growing number of people who did not have a record of their birth, yet needed to supply some proof of their age--for example, to apply for Social Security, or to get a marriage license.

So in 1941, Indiana's General Assembly passed a law allowing Indiana residents without birth records to bring a petition before their county's circuit court. After being presented with evidence, the court would issue a legal decree stating the time and place of their birth (which could have happened several decades earlier, and in a place outside of the county or even the state of Indiana). This decree (often referred to as a "delayed birth record") included some of the same pieces of information that are found on an ISDH birth record. Pictured is an example of a decree for an 1896 birth, which was filed in Hendricks County Circuit Court in 1941.

Hendricks County has petitions for delayed birth records that were filed from 1941 through 1979 (though very scattered in the later years) and these records have been microfilmed.That microfilm is available at the Family History Library, the Indiana State Library and also at the >Plainfield library. The records have also been indexed at the Hendricks County site for the USGenWeb Project (see the Data section).