Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ten Hours In The Family History Library Uncovers A New Daughter

Family History Library - photo by author
Work brought me to Salt Lake City for a week. The moment my professional responsibilities finished, my genealogy addiction kicked in and kept me holed up in the Family History Library for ten hours.

This was my second time researching at the famed library. It's a fantastic experience. However, no matter how well I prepare a focused to-do list, I always feel like a kid in a candy shop, "Oh, I wonder if they have [insert random tax list, land record, probate packet here]" and jump to the microfilm or book collections.

Fortunately, I was able to break myself from the scattershot of impulse research and focused on my 5th great-grandfather Thomas Kirk.

I zeroed in on the research started in my blog post, Land Records Reveal Family and Sizable Estate. In that post, I analyzed two land records that indicated Thomas' heirs inherited his property following his December 1846 death.

These land records are critically important because they are among the very few documents that shed any light on the settlement of his estate. The land deeds fill an important gap created when his probate package was incinerated in a devastating 1875 courthouse fire.

Miles of microfilm - photo by author
Miles of Microfilm
In the above-mentioned blog post, I speculated that each of Thomas' heirs (nine living children and three grandchildren from his son Vachel who was deceased at the time of Thomas' passing) inherited 16.5 acres of land.

This theory was based only on the two land deeds found at that point for his sons William and Thomas Jr. (who each sold 16.5 acres), and granddaughter Sarah (Kirk) Eaton (who sold 5.5 acres, or a third of the likely 16.5 acreage she inherited with her two brothers).

Could I locate land records for Thomas' remaining children and subsequently cobble together more information about the settlement of his estate?

With ten hours of solid research time, I could sure give it a go!

Thomas' Heirs
At the time of his death, all of Thomas' children were alive except Vachel Kirk (who had three children: Sarah, James, and Vachel Jr.). Andrew and George Kirk both died in childhood before their father according to family genealogies.

Thomas Kirk's known children

Among my first great finds in the library was an 1847 atlas of land ownership in Licking County, Ohio, which included Thomas' name and helped set the scene for the deed transfers I was about to discover.

At the time of his passing, Thomas Kirk lived in Monroe Township, Licking County, Ohio. This was the property that was distributed to his heirs.

Thomas Kirk's property at the time of his December 1846 death.

The Children Cashed In
As the clock ticked down to the library's closing time, I cruised through microfilmed mid-19th century land deeds quickly scanning for Thomas' family.

I was successful and found each of his children ("heirs at law of Thomas Kirk deceased") selling their land beginning in May 1848 to William Gossage of Knox County, Ohio. Each child sold 16.5 acres, as I  speculated, for about $155.

Among the last to sell their inheritance was daughter Jane (Kirk) Tracy and son Hugh Kirk, who sold their shares in April 1849 from Crawford County, Illinois (where most of Thomas' descendants eventually migrated from Licking County).

Two of Thomas' three grandchildren were located selling their 5.5 acres. These were the children of Thomas' eldest son Vachel who predeceased him. I have not yet found a deed of sale for Vachel Jr, the third grandchild. That search continues.

But Wait, There's More!
On the May 1848 deed of sale for Thomas' son James Kirk, another heir was named. Unexpectedly, a woman named Sarah Kirk was among the heirs selling a one eleventh share of the property inherited from Thomas Kirk.

This Sarah was not the granddaughter Sarah (Kirk) Eaton who received 5.5 acres as part of her father Vachel's inheritance.

No, this Sarah Kirk sold a full 16.5 acres for $155 just like each of Thomas' children. This suggested that she had the same inheritance standing as each of Thomas' known ten children.

Listed as Thomas Kirk's heirs, Sarah Kirk and James Kirk sell land. 

Was this Sarah Kirk a daughter who had been overlooked by published genealogies?

There are a few online genealogies for Thomas' family that include a daughter Sarah born in 1815, but the only source to support this claim was other family trees. I've seen so many mistakes in online genealogies for Thomas' family that I just overlooked these claims.

Since she was selling her portion of the inheritance with James, I carefully reviewed his census enumerations. Sure enough, a 20-year-old Sarah Kirk was living in his household in the 1850 census. Curiously, there's an eleven-year-old Sarah Kirk also in the household that year - likely James' daughter. I'm guessing he didn't have two daughters named Sarah, and that the 20-year-old was actually his sister.

1850 Licking County, OH census enumeration includes 20 year-old Sarah Kirk.

Based on this evidence, I'm left to conclude that the online genealogies were likely correct. Thomas Kirk did have a daughter Sarah, and the land record labeling her his heir is evidence substantiating the claim.

The Good Wife?
After locating land transactions for his - now eleven - children. I was left wondering what happened to his widow Anna Kirk.

Initially, when I read that the property was split into eleven shares, I assumed that ten of those shares were for Thomas' children and the eleventh share was for his widow. However, Anna was living in Delaware County (bordering Monroe Township to the immediate west) in July 1847 when she sold land in Jacksontown (her own property that she owned before marrying Thomas Kirk) to a son from her first marriage.

Why was she living in Delaware County in 1847 and not on the Monroe Township property, which was not sold by his children until the following year?

Why would Thomas' widow not inherit some of his land? Was it because she was his second wife and not the mother of his children? Was this standard practice for the time?

We know Thomas died without a will, so I couldn't say that it was Thomas' own legally documented wish that his wife inherit nothing. Did the law typically leave wives - who weren't the natural mother of the deceased's children - out in the cold with no property? Perhaps she was given personal effects and household item in lieu of property? What I wouldn't give for Thomas' probate package right about now!

I'm left scratching my head on this one and welcome any theories or explanations.


  1. I should mention for the record that Sarah Kirk's birth year has to be reconciled. If she was only 20 in 1850 (as enumerated on that census), she would have been born in 1830. That makes her mother Sarah (Bonar) Kirk too old to have children.

    However, the online genealogies peg Sarah's birth in 1815. Was the enumerated age on the census a mistake? Was she actually born in 1815 and therefore about 35 in 1850? To be determined.

  2. Great research, Michael. It's funny, the more answers we find, the more questions we have! Your Family History library sounds wonderful!

    1. Thanks, Dara. I'm busy digesting the new information I found and already plotting my new questions.

      You're right, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is wonderful for its expansive and unparalleled collection. I highly encourage a visit at least once.

  3. Like you, I'm a little surprised that Anna did not claim some of Thomas's land from his estate.

    Ohio law had dower rights for a surviving spouse (1/3 of the deceased's real property), regardless of the will, and still does, according to this:

    When probate records survive, they sometimes have a renunciation of dower rights by a widow, in favor of some other provision made for her (or him) in the deceased's will.

  4. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time - before the courthouse fire - and review Thomas’ probate package. It sure could help resolve some of these questions.