Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Last Record of Thomas Kirk

When Licking County's courthouse went up in smoke in 1875, a lot of Thomas Kirk's recorded history was lost, including his probate file - a rare window into his socioeconomic status and family relationships.

Thomas - my fifth great-grandfather - died aged 68 on December 3, 1846 without a will, so the settlement of his estate likely generated a lot of paperwork (no doubt a pain for his heirs, but a goldmine for family historians if only the documents had survived the flames). The probate process would have inventoried and appraised all of his property (including possessions of the home and farm), tallied sales at auction to recoup funds to pay debts (if he had any), and stipulated who inherited what.

Although probates were lost, the minute books that detailed every action taken by Licking County's Court of Common Pleas miraculously survived the fire. When the court convened on March 13, 1847, it acknowledged Thomas' death intestate and appointed his son James as administrator of the estate.

Surviving land records showed that the settlement process continued into 1848 when Thomas' heirs at law (his eleven children with his first wife Sarah Bonar) began selling their shares of his 171.96-acre Monroe Township farm (located in the county's northwest). The last deed of sale was signed on April 14, 1849, when heirs Loyd and Jane (Kirk) Tracy and Hugh and Jane (Hartsock) Kirk jointly sold their stake in the property. They were delayed in finalizing their sale because they had moved to Crawford County, Illinois - over 300 miles west of Licking County, Ohio.

But when was Thomas' estate finally settled?

While it's fortunate that the court's minute books escaped the fire and have now been digitized, they're not indexed which required a tedious page by page review. The court clerk's chicken scratch spans many volumes and thousands of pages. I spent several months trawling through the books trying to decipher penmanship - hoping to find mention of Thomas. In the process, I learned a lot about the crimes and legal grievances of Licking County's early citizenry. I also learned that Thomas was a good citizen - never appearing in court accused of transgressions - who served as a juror and was even called as a witness in a murder trial.

Just when I thought my eyeballs couldn't take it anymore, I finally struck gold (call it the luck of the Irish)!

On October 23, 1850 - nearly four years after Thomas was "accidentally killed" - I found an entry for James Kirk, administrator of the estate of Thomas Kirk, deceased, "having filed accounts current with vouchers and the same having been published and noticed by the Clerk of this court in the Licking Herald, a newspaper according to law, and said accounts and vouchers having been examined by a Commissioner of this Court and found in all things legal and correct and reports being respectively filed by such Commissioners and examined and approved by the Court, the said accounts are hereby finally settled and ordered to be recorded to wit."

Licking County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas - 23 October 1850

With that notation, the court clerk recorded what was likely Thomas Kirk's last appearance in Licking County's records and wrote the final chapter on one of the jurisdiction's earliest settlers.

Licking County Court of Common Pleas. Journals 1849-1852. Film 485309. DGS 8558259. Common Pleas Journal Book 1850. Journal page 234, Digital page 414. 23 October 1850. Digitized by FamilySearch.


  1. I've gone through the Minutes and the Order books of Nicholas County WV searching for any and all mention of my James Sims. I know exactly what you mean. Kudos for spending that much time searching line by line, Michael.

    1. You've really got to be committed to trawl through those court records. They're hard work! I hope you found some treasures to make it worth your while.

  2. I also try to find every documented mention of my ancestors. Indexing is great, but sometimes you have to go through it line by line till your eyes hurt. But it's always worth it to find something.

    1. Not gonna lie. The finds feel sweeter when you discover them after trawling through pages of unindexed records. But my eyes prefer the indexed records.

  3. I so admire your persistence! And I am glad you were able to get closure.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I was relieved to find the record. As I got further away from his death date, I was starting to worry I’d overlooked it and was dreading the idea of making another pass at the records.