Monday, April 12, 2021

Another Death In the Family Story

See my previous post for the backstory but while cleaning up a profile, I came across a death certificate issued for Charles Webster Baker, son of my 3rd great grandparents. I was expecting the normal heart disease or other similar disease but was taken about when the cause of death was listed as "Fractured skull" in big bold text. I knew there was a story there and down below, it indeed said he was killed when "hit by car". He had been 61 years old at his death and thus old enough that I never really went looking for his death but upon seeing the above, I changed my tune. Fifteen minutes later, I found the full newspaper writeup posted below. Pretty much it sounds like something I have done many times except this time Charles wasn't looking the right direction to see if traffic was coming and paid the ultimate price.


Friday, April 9, 2021

More Evidence of Chicken Bakers

  In support of International Women's Day earlier this month, I had posted my tribute of my 3rd great grandmother Frances. She was born in Wisconsin to English immigrant parents, her father died in the 1849 California Gold Rush and her mom took her and her two siblings back to England. Frances however, sailed back to the U.S. five years later at age 17 to marry my 3rd great grandfather, someone who she was most likely familiar with since he lived in the same town she was born in Wisconsin. The story of Frances celebrates independence and the American dream all in one microcosm of a family. The post drew a comment from someone interested to learn more and when I went to provide the link of her biography information on WikiTree, I realized I hadn't updated it. This led me to updating not only her profile but those of her kids which brings me a long way around to the gist of this post, her son Robert James Chicken.

Robert James Chicken was actually born Robert James Baker due to his father changing his surname after the Civil War. I wrote more about this earlier HERE.  In short, Robert went to live with his uncle Robert Chicken and adopted the surname Chicken back.

I have always assumed it was an informal adoption and it still may be, but in cleaning up Robert's family tree sources, I found a new source, his death record. It says at the top that Robert J. Chicken and that "He was adopted when small and took this name, the original name was Baker". Since this was Robert's son Otis dictating this information, one must place weight to it and perhaps he indeed was officially adopted. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter to me and it yet another link strengthening the Chicken - Baker surname swap.

The death certificate wasn't done with the surprises. Turns out he died of a probable heart attack but the additional information was enlightening. It went on to say he just dropped dead in the barn yard while choring. He was 64 years at the time and this probably wasn't all that unusual back then. But how many of us work now right up until the moment we check out. I'm guessing quite a bit fewer.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Another Will, Another Surprise

After the success of obtaining the probate record of my 3rd great grandfather and the court case that decided his estate, I thought while I had a contact at the courthouse there, I would just go ahead and search for other probate files of ancestors who lived and died in that county. Of all of them, only one would have a file and as it turned out, it was even larger than my 3rd great grandfather's file, clocking in at a whopping 130 pages!

Stephen Cogswell, above, is also a 3rd great grandfather whose family were long time citizens of the state of New York after immigrating here in the early 1600's. In fact, they actually were ship wrecked on the shores of Maine and only after walking days/weeks to the south were they able to find transportation to take back up to Maine, salvage what they could of their personal belongings, pick up the remainder of the family and make their way to New York. That is another story in itself. 

I don't know the reasons Stephen' father Simeon and his family immigrated to Iowa but I suspect like most other families, Simeon came from large families that had subdivided farms from generation to generation to the point where there just wasn't room for a family to make a living and so they went west in search of land. They landed in Iowa and son Stephen would become quite the successful farmer whose real estate holdings were valued at $13,000 and personal possessions at $5000 at the time of his death in October of 1906. According to one calculator, assuming 4% return for inflation, that would equal a cool $1.7 million in today's dollars. Not to shabby.

But it wasn't so simple. First, in the months leading up to his death, his children had Stephen declared legally insane so that an independent guardian could be named to see over his estate.  The 41 page file doesn't really go into specifics only to say that the insane declaration was made legal and several male husbands of Stephen's daughters were put in charge of the estate while Stephen was alive. He died just a little over a month after the legal ruling.

If that wasn't enough, Stephen's will caused some issues too. It had been written 5  years before his death and left everything to his wife Frances for the duration of her life and then divided among his three surviving daughters equally. (They had a fourth son who died of scarlet fever in his childhood.) The rub was that wife Frances had died a year after the will was written, Stephen had remarried a year after that to a woman named Anna, and of course never saw fit to update his will. 

It is hard for me to decipher but it appears that the probate courts declared the three sisters as heirs and widowed wife Anna as a legatee and that all four were entitled to an equal share of the estate. The three Guardians of Stephen's estate (due to him being declared insane) ratified this decision and thus the estate was divided up in four equal shares. 

As with most genealogy research, I don't think I have ever discovered new information without also discovering a new mystery. In the middle of the legal document declaring my 3rd great grandfather insane was a document that I really don't know how to describe. There are a few legible words on the top and after that it looks like an alien code for all I can tell. The other 40 pages all have fairly legible handwriting or typing and this one page is just bizarre. I welcome anyone who can decipher it or at least hazard a believable guess. The only rational one I can come up with is this is something Stephen wrote and was used as proof to declare him insane.