Long lost cousins. Every family history researcher seems to have them. There just has to be someone out there in the ancestor search who is related. Well, this professional genealogist has found a few, including members of the Biggerstaff family.
There are a few tricks for family history researchers to find living relatives including using probates as part of the process. Two words of caution to the family history researcher looking to find living relatives: tread carefully. In this day and age, when many people are concerned about privacy issues, some folks may not welcome being bothered by a long lost cousin.
Court records, in general, are a good resource for a family history researcher because they:
- Are primary sources
- Place an individual in a specific place at a specific time
- Provide insight into an individual or family
- Verify name changes
Because they are open records available for anyone to search, probates are a particularly good resource for a family history researcher who is beginning the ancestor search for living relatives. For a genealogy search to succeed, however, probates are just one tool in the genealogy search tool box. The industrious family history researcher will find that probates work very well with census records for genealogy research.
So how do the lost become found?
My Ggggrandfather Samuel L. Biggerstaff died on the 30th day of January in 1889 in Saunders County, NE. His heirs were: “Minerva Miller of Kansas; Mary Smith of said Precinct of Green; John Biggerstaff of Green Precinct aforesaid; Samuel Biggerstaff of said Green Precinct; and Elisha Biggerstaff of Stocking precinct in said
Saunders County; children of said deceased; Jennie Winget, Eliza Davis, Mary Keiser, and Minnie Keiser, children of Clara Keiser deceased daughter of the said deceased. Said Minnie Keiser is under the age of fourteen years. Three children of William Biggerstaff a deceased son of said deceased, who reside in Illinois or in places unknown to petitioner.”
This family history researcher now knows the date of Samuel’s death, his heirs, which of his children are deceased, the married names of daughters, and the names of some of the grandchildren, and where they live.
Let’s focus on William Biggerstaff because we know the least about him. The first thing to do is to try to find William in the Illinois censuses. No William was found, but three children and a remarried mother were:
- 1880 Census in Madison County, Illinois: Biggerstaff, Eliza, 17; John, 15; and Ida, 13. They were living in the household of James, 37, and Lucinda, 41, Adamson.
- 1870 Census in Richland County, Illinois: Lucinda Bigerstaff (sic), 31; Eliza, 7; John, 5; and Ida M., 3.
- 1860 Census in Richland County, Illinois: Wm. H. Bickentoff (more sic), 27, and Lucinda, 21.
- 1850 Census in Wood County, Ohio: William was listed as 18 and living in the Samuel Biggerstaff household in Ohio. The names and ages fit.
Lucinda turned out to be the thread that held the family together, both in person and in name as there was only one Lucinda Biggerstaff. After William’s death on 9 April 1866, an estate needed to be probated in Richland County, Illinois and, in a slightly unusual move for that time period, Lucinda Biggerstaff petitioned the court for letters of administration for the Estate of William H. Biggerstaff: “This day appeared in open court Lucinda Biggerstaff on a application to the court for letters of administration on the Estate of William H. Biggerstaff, deceased…” She and the children stayed together until her offspring started their own households.
This information provides invaluable insight into the family for a family history researcher. There were enough possessions and business dealings to warrant a probate and Lucinda was competent to handle those business dealings.
Genealogy research would be easier for the family history researcher if the process was a straight line either back or forward in time. However, as in life, sometimes the family history researcher has to go back in order to go forward. The probates so far have provided death dates, places, and heirs. With a feel for the family tree now, let’s continue with the 1900 Census following William’s son, John. In 1900 he was in Richland County, Illinois, married with children:
1900 Census in Richland County, Illinois:
- Biggerstaff, John; head; b. Aug. 1866; 33; b. Illinois
- Maud; wife; b. Oct. 1870; 29; b. Illinois
- Inez; daughter; b. July 1895; 4; b. Illinois
- Evert; son; b. Feb. 1898; 1; b. Illinois
- Adamson, Lucinda; mother; b. Aug. 1838; 61; b. Ohio
- To continue following the family in a logical manner, I looked in the next census:
- 1910 Census in Saunders County, Nebraska:
- Biggerstaff, John; head; 42; b. IL
- Maud; wife; 38; b. IL
- Inez; daughter; 14; b. IL
- Everett; son; 11; b. IL
- Frederick; son; 6; b. NE
- Dorothy; daughter; 4; b. NE
- Gladys; daughter; 1; b. NE
- Adamson, Lucinda; Mother; 72; b. OH
The years between 1910 and 1920 brought changes to the household:
1920 Census in Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska:
- Biggerstaff, Jessie M.; head; 48; widow; b. IL
- Everett; son; 20; b. IL
- Fred; son; 16; b. NE
- Dorothy; daughter; 14; b. NE
- Gladys; daughter; 10; b. NE
Between 1910 and 1920, John Biggerstaff died. The children’s ages match. Jessie M. must be Jessie Maud, the wife of John. A family history search for probates by this professional genealogist found one for John H. Biggerstaff. He died on 8 April 1915. Jessie M. Biggerstaff was appointed administratix of the estate. Heirs were: Jessie M. Biggerstaff, widow, age 42 years; Inez Biggerstaff, daughter, 20 years; Everett Biggerstaff, son, 16 years; Fred Biggerstaff, son, 11 years; Dorothy Biggerstaff, daughter; age 9 years; Gladys Biggerstaff, daughter; age 6 years. In this time period, for whatever reason, Maud changed the way she signed her name and the probate reflects this. If the situation had been different, and the daughters had been older, married, and moved on, this information would be included in the probate.
One note: that long lost cousin who lived frugally, never married or had any direct descendants and believed in hiding any extra money under a mattress may provide a wealth of information for the family history researcher seeking living relatives. In order to settle the probate, an attempt has to be made to find living heirs, especially if there is no will.
A probate is a great starting place for a genealogical researcher for looking for living relatives. Armed with a date, name, age and residence, a genealogical researcher can check later census records, and more recent city directories, local newspapers, telephone books, vital record indexes, school yearbooks, church records and directories, or local town and county histories for living relatives. In the case of John and Jessie Biggerstaff, son Everett stayed in the area. Although he had no children, his obituary lists the names of siblings, including the married names of his sisters, and where they lived. The genealogical researcher can continue the ancestor search.
Work is being done to digitize court records, especially wills and probates, but there is much information and many resources not yet online that are valuable for the family history researcher in finding living relatives. In order to access wills and probates in the search for living relatives, a professional genealogist may be needed to access the best probates and other sources for your ancestor search.
For genealogy services to search for living heirs listed in probates, the expert genealogists at RecordClick will assist you. Have us develop a research strategy for you, help find documents, or work with you on creating your own family history.