Monday, August 20, 2012

Thomas Gilshannon's Will . . . A Widow's Plight

Thos. Gilshanon born in County Meath Ireland

Summer is coming to an end for me.  School starts tomorrow, and, as usual, I didn't accomplish everything on my "to do" list, but it has been a wonderful summer with a successful research trip, an unexpected discovery of a cache of old photos and videos, a pleasant road trip with my husband, a few cleaning/organizing projects completed, and I still had time to knit!  It has been a most relaxing summer. 

 So what is left of interest in Thomas Gilshannon's will other than a bunch of bills.  Well, I found a few items of interest.  Let's look first at his obituary.  His obituary tells me that he had tuberculosis . . . for seventeen years!  I didn't know you could survive it for that length of time in 1888.

Clinton Daily Herald  Jan 25,  1888

Thomas' will was written five years before his death and only a year after his daughter, Nancy, also succumbed to the dreaded consumption.  He could see the end, and wanted to get his affairs in order. His choice of executor was not a deathbed decision.  Like Thomas, his wife Bridget did not read or write and would need someone to look after her interests after he was gone. There were still children at home to consider. Did G. A. Griswold do that?  You decide.

While G.A. Griswold paid everyone else, Bridget had to petition the court

In the District court of the State of Iowa in and for Clinton county.

In the matter of the estate 
of Thomas Gilshannon

Petition of the Widow for
allowance for 1 years support

Bridget Gilshannon, widow of said deceased state that now (no?) allowance has been made to her as such widow for her support for twelve months from the time of the death of said deceased.  That she is 66 years of age.  That the amount of personal property ^ of said deceased^ set apart to her as exempt from execution is $_______.  That the appraised value of personal estate of said deceased other than exempt property is $______.  She asks that she may be allowed the sum of $300 for her support as such widow during said period of 12 months.

                                                                          Bridgett Gillshannon

                                                                          By Geo B. Young, her atty

The judge ordered it.

The executor complied . . . with payments

The lawyer's bill was $25
Note:  Thank goodness his name was printed in the upper left corner of the bill because I certainly couldn't read it.

I investigated, briefly, the identity of the executor of his will, and from what I can tell he was a farmer who had a nearby farm and I assume a trusted friend of the Gilshannons, but why wasn't a family member chosen?  So far,  I have not found a family relationship with G.A. Griswold.  What was the incentive for someone outside a family to agree to be an executor? Money? Friendship? Obligation?   There was a bill for $25.00 "commissions", and I assume this was what he was paid for carrying out the duties of the executor.

So. . . when all the bills and fees were paid and everything was settled, what monies were left for the widow and children? 

The Final Disbursements

Bridget received $204.39

. . . and each of the children receive $58.39

As you can see a probate record contains more than just a wil,l and these "extras" give you the story behind the will and can often lead your research in new directions.  One bill in this probate record referenced a lawsuit between Thomas and a man named Struve complete with the date.  That will go on my list for next year's research trip.  The bills may paint a picture of the life of the deceased, along with the time period they lived in.  

Don't just settle for a will, dig deeper and search for the entire probate record.  Surprises await. . .  

Postscript:  My research trip to Clinton would not have been as successful without the help of my Clinton angel, Mary.  She gave me addresses, hours of operation, local maps with ancestor addresses highlighted, location of various records, went to museums and historical centers to check out their holdings, and so much more.   If I try to list it all, I will forget something.  She was the reason I was able to accomplish so much. 


  1. What a treasure trove of information you found in this probate packet, Margel. And what a shame his widow had to suffer through a whole year and hire an attorney to get her payment. But then again, it resulted in that wonderful letter of disbursements.

    Glad to hear you had a relaxing summer. Best of luck for the new school year!

    1. Shelley-
      It was way too much to show it all, but I also loved the listing and valuation of personal goods as well as the cost of repairs, farm commodities, etc. Did you know that a casket, shroud, and box cost $35?

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Amazing that she had to sue to get anything! I love this post.

  3. This isn't the first time I've seen the same situation. What a shame she had to go to such extraordinary measures to be supported in her later life.

    Interesting to me was the differences in cost of burial supplies in different parts of the country. When I got receipts for the guardianship of the Hill children by my great grandfather, there was an accounting for the cost of the coffin for Hetty Hill, the only daughter, in 1897.

    Her coffin was $7.50 and reimbursement for it was taken from her (minor) brothers' estate. No shroud or box was listed. We've still never found her grave.