I’ve presented my FamilyBrowse presentation as a webinar four times already this year. It is so important to know how to find and use the unindexed records on FamilySearch. In the talk I lead people through how to find various documents and one of my samples is the probate file of Michael A’hern, my 3rd Great Uncle.
His will and inventory are mentioned in the digitized proceeding index for Somerset County, New Jersey, which is found on FamilySearch. Unfortunately the actual will and inventory were not filmed by FamilySearch. But just knowing that a will exists, makes it worthwhile to contact the court for copies of the documents.
After I presented the talk as part of the Florida Genealogical Society’s 2017 Spring Virtual Conference, (http://flsgs.org/cpage.php?pt=268) I had someone email and ask if I’d ever sent for the will and inventory. As a matter of fact, I did. And they are among my favorite documents for the picture they paint of this gentleman.
At the time Michael A’hern made his will, he had a wife, a niece, Katie McGill, who lived with him and a daughter and son, Mary T and John Edward A’Hern. He bequeathed a life estate in his property to his wife, and upon her death provided for one specific bequest - $100 to Katie. The remainder of the property was to be split between Mary and John, giving Mary three-fourths and John one-fourth.
I trust it didn’t bother John inherit the smaller portion. I imagine he would have had a far greater earning capacity than his spinster sister and she was the one who continued to live in the family home and care for their aging parents.
Michael’s typed will fills one page, and spills a few lines onto the next, upon which he set his hand “this nineteenth day of October, Nineteen Hundred and Three.” The copy I received from the court clerk was a photocopy of this original will, complete with his signature in his shaky, 70-year-old hand.
But it is Michael’s Inventory and Appraisement that brings this man and his life into focus. Among his possessions were a 2-seat surrey, a carryall wagon, two buggy wagons – a new one valued at $25 and an old one worth $8. He had a cutter sleigh and an old fashioned sleigh – clearly did not live near his brother in sunny California! He had a harrow, a plow, a 1-horse cultivator and a mowing machine. Nice, this inventory tells me about what he did for a living, and the tools he employed to do that work. On his farm he had four young pigs, a tom turkey and 20 fowls.
My favorite part of the inventory, however, involves a few other animals. While the pigs, turkey and fowl are nameless (wonder why…?), the first items on the list must have been his favorites – three black and white Holsteins named Nellie, Spot and Fannie and a brown Jersey cow named Ida. Joining them in the barn were a Charley, a black horse and a grey colt, Dan “coming 4 years.” Can’t you just picture Michael talking to Ida as he milks her?
I just love the images these documents conjure in my mind as I read them. What kind of genealogy documents send your imagination soaring?
If you have enjoyed this post about using FamilySearch, check out my recent blog post, “No Image Available? Maybe There Is One!”
 “Last Will and Testament of Michael A’Hern, of Franklin Township, Somerset County, N.J,” Will Book R, page 220 and following. The will in the possession of author is copy of original will of Michael A’Hern received from Surrogate’s Court, Somerset County, New Jersey, probate file R 675
 “Inventory and Appraisement of the Estate of Michael A’Hern, of Franklin Township, Somerset County, N.J,” Inventory Book S, page 497 and following. The inventory in the possession of author is copy of original inventory of the estate of Michael A’Hern received from Surrogate’s Court, Somerset County, New Jersey probate file R 675
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.