Open to Interpretation

In my previous post I made mention of the Will of John Wood Jr. One of the sticking points with trying to prove the correct son of this patriot is the Will. More specifically the fact that the DAR genealogists claim that Will is open to interpretation. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what they meant. It seemed clear-cut to me.

To get to the bottom of this, I asked an acquaintance who is unfamiliar with the family or the challenge to analyze the Will so I could get her unbiased thoughts on what it says. While I’m waiting for her to finish, I decided I wanted to try my hand at it myself, then see how our results compare. In part this is an exercise in critical thinking. Can I strip away as much of my bias as possible and see this Will as an uninterested by-stander?wood-john-jr-will-page-1

My first step is to deconstruct this Will by making a series of statements of fact about what I see. No assumptions allowed. I do get to correct for modern spelling to preserve my sanity.

  1. It appears to be a photocopy of the original Will (as opposed to a transcription from a Will Book)
  2. The handwriting on the signature differs from the body of the Will
  3. This is the Will for John Wood
  4. He states he is from Washington Township, Clermont County, Ohio
  5. He states he is infirm of body but of perfect memory and judgment
  6. This is his last Will and Testament
  7. He leaves his burial ‘in a Christian like manner’ up to the discretion of his Executors
  8. He does not name his Executors
  9. He does not name his wife
  10. He Wills and bequeaths the whole of his estate both real and personal property to his wife (Except what is hereinafter mentioned)
  11. 1st exception: “or until my youngest son becomes of age if she should live so long”. He does not indicate who this youngest son is.
  12. He allows for the provision that his wife is able to sell the land for the benefit of the family as she “may think most proper”.
  13. He wills that his wife is to retain this privilege for her lifetime with a reservation.
  14. 2nd exception: From that property he excludes the horses he had previously given to his sons named in this order: Joseph, Absalom, William and John. He means for them to have these horses as their own.
  15. He names a granddaughter, Marget, but does not indicate who are her parents.
  16. He bequeaths $25 to Marget when she reaches age 18.
  17. He specifies that the $25 can be paid from the sale of the land if that sale takes place.
  18. He makes a provision for the land and its proceeds if his wife dies. It is to be sold and equally divided between his sons and daughters.
  19. He mentions daughters, plural. There are more than one. They are not named.
  20. The Will was written on the 8th day of July, 1808.
  21. The Will is signed by John Wood with his ‘seal’
  22. The Will is witnessed by Joshua Manning and Lemuel Stephenson

Let’s leave the probate aside since it doesn’t speak to the issue of the Will being open to interpretation.

I wonder how many people would look at this Will and think item #11 was the sticking point? I certainly didn’t. Not until I did this exercise was I able to see what part of my argument the genealogists were refusing to accept.

William is the son who is in contention. I claimed that the son of the patriot they previously approved was a minor at the time this Will was written. We know from census records that ‘proven’ William was born in 1792. He was only 16 at the time of this Will was written. My William was born in July 1787 (from a Bible record). He either just turned 21 or was on the cusp of turning 21.

They are saying that this Will does not make it clear that the minor-aged son isn’t one of the four named sons: Joseph, Absalom, William and John. Here’s the thing: They’re right. Based solely on the Will, there is no proof that there is a 5th son.

This Will hints that John Wood Jr. considered the age of inheritance as 18. He does not indicate what age equals ‘of age’. I’ve found guardianship records in Clermont County, OH that show guardians remaining in place until heirs reached aged 21, so it is possible that anyone under the age of 21 could still be considered a minor. This Will wasn’t proven until October 1808. By then there would have been no question that my William was 21. It can be proven John (III) was 18. Joseph was already married for 3 years; it can only be surmised he was at least 21. It’s been speculated he was born in 1783, making him 27. There are specific dates for Absalom, but I don’t know their source. Taken at face value, he was 25 at the time of his father’s demise. If these ages are correct, then John Wood Jr. named his sons in birth order. Using the guardian until 21 argument, the minor-aged son would actually be John (III). Since one was never appointed, that issue is moot. The ‘of age’ qualifier relies on popular and accepted belief at the time. This Will is maddeningly non-specific; it relies on the people who witnessed, proved and administered it to already know the identities of the wife, son and daughters. In the rugged frontier, guardianship laws don’t appear to have been rigidly enforced.

My argument was based on my belief that there is a 5th son. And indeed there is a 5th son. His name is David and he was born in the year 1799; making him about 9 years old at the time of the Will. We know his birth year from the mortality schedule, where he is listed as having died of rabies in 1849.1 It remains incumbent upon me to prove this. I think I can, even in the absence of direct evidence (no guardian was appointed to him). Doing so requires its own proof.

While frustrating, they are right to question my assumptions about this Will without proof that my argument is valid. I’m learning a lot from this process. Wills don’t always say what we think they say, or want them to say. Documents in general don’t always say what we think they say. I like this exercise. It forced me to look at this document and all its components with a more critical eye.

_________________

1 Non-population Census Schedules for Illinois, 1850-1880; Census Year: 1849; Census Place: District 19, Edgar, Illinois; Page: 213

The Forgotten Widow

I’ve written about John Wood Jr. before, back when I was first trying him on as a possible ancestor for my William Wood. Recently I’ve been immersed in studying this family as part of that thorough and exhaustive (code for expensive) search genealogists require for an analysis. The recurring theme I’ve noticed during this research is that no one who has worked on this family seems to have cared about his widow Margaret. It’s as if she ceased to exist the moment John Wood Jr. died.

Let’s look at how Margaret became a widow.

“John Wood, the eldest of the brothers that came to Manning’s Station, was one of the early associate judges, and while attending court at Williamsburgh fell ill, dying the next day after he was brought to his home north of Neville.”1

Evidence suggests he was about 49 when he died. Luckily, for all his descendants, he left a Will. Being an associate judge (and he was; there is ample evidence to support that claim), one would think he would have known how important it was to name his executor/trix. He does say he was infirm, so if the above is to be believed, he wrote it in haste, and possibly before he got home. He doesn’t mention his wife, daughters or youngest son by name. He does name his adult sons in this order: Joseph, Absalom, William and John (to whom he leaves horses), as well as a little grand-daughter Margaret (to whom he leaves $25). The remainder of his estate, real and personal, is left to his wife. “…or untill my youngest son becomes of age if she should live so long–But and if my Wife should think it to be best to make sale of my land for the Benefit of the family she is so to do as she may think most proper this previledge I will to remain with her during her Life…2” He goes on to make the provisions of what is to happen after his wife’s decease: the usual boilerplate language of dividing what remains equally among his sons and daughters.

Here’s the thing: she doesn’t die for a very long time. She lives at least another 32 years. Near as I can tell, she remains a widow for that entire time. With regard to the land, she probably couldn’t have sold it even if she wanted to because the family never had a deed to it. The property, situated on the Smith Survey No. 866 was tangled up in legal wranglings for decades, and was finally settled by a land patent granted by the Van Buren administration.3

Margaret Wood, her son Absalom Wood, Joshua Manning and Lemuel Stephenson appeared in the October 1808 session of the Court of Common Pleas. On the 18th of October they collectively put up a $600 bond for the administration of the estate. Margaret and Absalom were named as administrators of the estate.2

Margaret Wood begins appearing in the tax records in 1809.4 She continues to appear in available tax records from 1816-1819 in Clermont County, Ohio.5  Even though she couldn’t sell or partition the land, she was not without means. On 12 May 1817, she purchased 70 acres in White Oak Township, Highland County, Ohio for the sum of $165. This land was on the Francisco survey no. 2042.6 It is unclear when she actually moved to Highland County, since she’s still paying taxes in Clermont County until 1819. Next she appears in the 1820 Census in Highland County. This is tricky because ancestry.com has it transcribed as being Concord Township, Fayette County, but the top and side of the page clearly says Highland County.

1820 Highland County Census

Notice I have arrows pointing to two names: Margaret Wood and Godfrey Wilkins (among several important names on this page). Godfrey Wilkins is later found as the neighbor of and witness to the Will of my William Wood, Margaret’s son, in the 1840 census in Edgar County, IL.

By this time 6 of Margaret’s 7 children are still alive. Absalom has married the widow Buchanan; William married Elizabeth Houston; John Wood III married Margaret Buchanan, the step-daughter of his brother Absalom. All are living in Washington Township, Clermont County, Ohio. Hannah married David Jones and is living in New Richmond (he later becomes the Mayor). Nancy and David are still unmarried and presumably living with their mother in Highland County, even though the census says she has two females aged 16-25 living with her instead of a male and female. (Drives me crazy that it reads that way.) Anyway, just like the history book read, David married Margaret (Peggy) Graham, and Nancy married Peter Collins, both in Highland County.

Wood, David and Graham, Margaret marriage cropped

Collins, Peter and Wood, Nancy Marriage cropped

On 1 Mar 1828, David and Peggy purchase 2 plots of adjoining land to comprise 55 acres on the Spear Survey no. 2047 directly south of Margaret’s land.7

Returning to the 1820 Census, here is the bottom part of the page:

1820 Highland County Census bottom

John Graham is married to Elizabeth Partridge, daughter of Robert Partridge. After the death of John Graham, Elizabeth Graham married Godfrey Wilkins (mentioned above). Christenia Collins (widow of Isaac) shows signs of being the mother of Peter Collins, husband of Nancy.

I do have a theory about what brought Margaret to Highland County. See John Partridge on the above census? He was married to Jane Grimes, who is believed to have died around 1816 because he remarried. I’ve seen Margaret Wood as having the maiden name of Grimes on several ancestry trees. Haven’t found anything that proves it yet, but it is intriguing, and dovetails nicely with the known information. Did she move there to be near her own family?

1830 rolls around and things shake up a bit. David is shown on the 1830 census for White Oak Township.8 On 12 Sep 1830 he and Peggy sell their 55 acres.9  Margaret can’t be located on any census in 1830. She sells her land on 1 Oct 1831.10  Absalom has died; his widow Jane remains in Clermont. Hannah stays in New Richmond, Clermont. Margaret and four of her children: William, John, David and Nancy all move to Brouillettes  Creek Township, Edgar County, Illinois. Some of that was documented in my earlier post; there’s lots more I could say, but this post is, ultimately, about Margaret.

1840 Edgar Census David Wood cropped

Above is Margaret’s son David Wood in the Edgar County, IL 1840 US Census, pg 75. Way over in the female 80-89 column is a tick mark I believe represents Margaret: 32 years after her husband died. Remember, David’s mother-in-law Elizabeth is married to Godfrey Wilkin, who appears on page 77, so this can’t be her. Pretty sure it’s Margaret, who lived to be at least 80, still with her family. Her story just needed to be told; I needed for her to no longer be forgotten.

___________________

1 Everts, L. (1880). Washington Township. In History of Clermont County, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers (p. 363). Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Company.

2 Will and Probate records of John Wood of Clermont County, Ohio. Copy from Circuit Clerk’s office in Batavia, OH.

3 Everts pg 47

4 Ancestry.com. Ohio, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1790-1890 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.

5 familysearch.org: Duplicate tax records of Clermont County, Ohio 1816-1838 Images 63, 205 and 338.

6 Transcribed Deed Book 3, pg 474 Highland County, Ohio Deeds

7 Transcribed Deed Book 2, pg 375 and 377 Highland County, Ohio Deeds (some of the deeds are transcribed out of order)

8 1830 US Census, Ohio, Highland, White Oak Twp, pg 52

9 Transcription Book 4, pg 300 Highland County, Ohio Deeds

10 Transcription Book 12, pg 400 Highland County, Ohio Deeds

11 1840 US Census, Illinois, Edgar, pg 75

Vetting History

When Ancestry.com came out with their new DNA Circles (free video to learn more) I was prompted to find out more about the ancestor who was the first one to appear for me as a DNA Circle: William Wood. I’d never paid any attention to him in the past; he was just sitting there like a forgotten toy.

The first thing I did was check my ignored hints. That’s where the Ancestry Member Trees live in my world. I went through the interesting trees to see what was there just to get a sense of what might be available for me to use as a finding aid. Spend any time at all on Ancestry following hints and we all see them: 15 family trees that are all over the map about spouses and children. One thing they all had in common was that William’s father was John Wood who died in 1807-8 in Clermont County, OH. I decided to take John Wood out for a test drive by adding him as William’s father with generic birth and death dates. Then I rummaged through the family tree hints for him. One finding aid kept appearing—it was a transcription from a history of Clermont County, OH. I Googled one of the sentences from it to find the book so I could see the quote in context.

John Wood, the eldest of the brothers that came to Manning’s Station, was one of the early associate judges, and while attending court at Williamsburg fell ill, dying the next day after he was brought to his home north of Neville. He had five sons and two daughters, – Joseph, who married Mary Hodge and died in Tate sixty years ago; Absalom, the husband of the widow Buchanan; William removed to Illinois, as did also John and David; one of the daughters married David Jones, and the other Peter Collins, of Highland County.1

William moving to Illinois sounded promising. William was married in Bracken County, KY. I have the marriage bond courtesy of a cousin. Bracken County, KY is just across the Ohio River from Clermont County, OH, so he didn’t stray far. Lucky for me five of the remaining six referenced children have marriage records that can be found on Family Search as digital images. The daughter who married David Jones was Hannah; the daughter who married Peter Collins was Nancy. That marriage between Peter Collins and Nancy Wood proved to be key.2

Collins, Peter and Wood, Nancy Marriage cropped

Peter Collins is living in Washington Township, Clermont County, Ohio in 1830; they have two boys and two girls.3 By 1840, Peter is out of the picture and Nancy is the head of household in Edgar County, Illinois; she has three boys and two girls. Enumerated on that same page is my William Wood.4 When 1850 rolls around Nancy is shown living with two of her sons, Andrew and Arza Collins.5 The history book makes no note of Peter and Nancy also joining the three Wood brothers in Illinois.

What of the three Wood brothers who removed to Illinois?

Wood, William land patent cropped

Wood, David Land Patent cropped

Wood, John land patent cropped

Wasn’t it just sweet of them to state where they were from in 1831 when these patents were issued?6 Note that all three are located in Township Fifteen North of Range Eleven West, which is Brouilletts Township. Based on the way the townships are numbered in Illinois, they are neighbors.

William Wood died in 1841, leaving a Will that names his wife and children, one of whom is George Wood.7

Wood, William Will cropped

John Wood died in 1861, leaving his widow Margaret to carry on without him. David Wood is found in the 1850 Mortality Schedule; he died of rabies, leaving behind his widow Peggy.8 Nancy Collins died in Edgar County in 1855.

Whatever happened to Peter Collins, Nancy’s husband? In the course of this process, I was attempting to learn more about Township fifteen north of Range eleven west, so I Googled it and this9 turned up:

Wood, George H law cropped

My interpretation of this is that William Wood had been made an administrator of Peter Collin’s estate (this has been confirmed for me by the Edgar County Circuit Court), and he died before he could finish the job, so his son George H. Wood (my ancestor) had to get permission to complete the process of transferring the land held by Peter to Godfrey Wilkin(s). Godfrey Wilkin was well known to the family. He’s living next door to William in the 1840 Census and is a witness on his Will. There is other evidence that supports the belief that John Wood is my William’s father such as deeper connections to Godfrey Wilkin over a longer period of time, and Nancy’s sons living with or next door to William’s offspring.

I’ve had encounters with “History Books” (or Brag Books) having it wrong before. These sources are only as good as the information that is provided to them by the people living at the time. In this case, however, I think whoever provided the information to the author(s) of this Clermont County, Ohio history got it right. I think I’m in the clear calling John Wood the father of William Wood.

__________

1Everts, L. (1880). Washington Township. In History of Clermont County, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers (p. 363). Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Company.

2Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-1997,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X8ZC-S51 : accessed 3 January 2015), Peter Collins and Nancy Wood, 26 Feb 1822; citing Highland, Ohio, United States, reference 173; county courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 570,622.

31830 U.S. Census, Ohio, Clermont Co, Washington Twp, pg. 248

41840 U.S. Census, Illinois, Edgar Co, pg. 77

51850 U. S. Census, Illinois, Edgar Co, District Nineteen, pg. 116B, Family 40

6United States. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. Automated Records Project; Federal Land Patents, State Volumes. http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/. Springfield, Virginia: Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States, 2007; Accession # IL0380__.481, # IL0370__.334, # IL0360__.477

7I didn’t record where I got this Will years ago. It probably came directly from Edgar County Circuit Clerk.

81850-1885,U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, Illinois, Edgar, District Nineteen, pg. 215, ln 14

9Laws of the State of Illinois passed by the Fourteenth General Assembly at Their Regular Session and Held at Springfield, Dec 2nd, 1844 (p. 270). (1845). Springfield, Il: Walters & Weber, Public Printers.