I’m supposed to be getting all my Scottish research ready for my trip, but I get onto ancestry.com, one thing leads to another and pretty soon I’m following a lead on some entirely different branch of the family. That’s what happened earlier this week. In recent months, Ancestry has added quite a bit of material related to probate files from all across the country. I’ve spotted records for multiple ancestors!
Anyway, I was looking for the possibility of probate files for Andrew Fraser in Iowa (where he died), then I start wondering about other ancestors who died in Iowa (Salathiel Timmons) and then I start wondering about other Timmons ancestors (Salathiel’s father, Peter Timmons) and the next thing you know I’m looking at a probate file from California. California?!
So here’s some back story first. Salathiel Timmons was my 3x-great-grandfather and served as a soldier in the 123rd Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. I’ve written at length about his Civil War pension file. Salathiel was one of twelve children, the third child of Peter Timmons and Nancy Dyer. He was born in Ohio, but Salathiel and his new bride moved to Illinois, as did some of his brothers. Census records say that Salathiel’s mother Nancy was born in Virginia. A migration pattern of Virginia to Ohio to Illinois is pretty typical for American families during the early part of the 19th century.
Peter and Nancy are in the 1860 census in Madison County, Ohio with several of their children still at home. But by 1870, Nancy is living with her son John and daughter-in-law Hester in Coles County, Iowa. Where is Peter?
In 1871, we find “Peter Timmins” of Illinois on a list of registered voters in Humboldt County, California. It would be easy to dismiss this as some other Peter, except that our Peter is curiously missing from his wife who is living in Illinois as of 1870.
Then in 1879, we find a 67-year-old Peter Timmons listed in a Census Mortality Schedule in Mattole Township, Humboldt County, California. (This is the first ancestor I’ve found in this type of record. Census takers during the 1850 – 1880 censuses were supposed to enumerate people who had died during the 12 months prior to the census.)
This Peter died of Typhoid Malarial Fever, perhaps meaning that he had both diseases – likely malaria first, then contracting typhoid due to his weakened condition. Again, this would be easy to dismiss as some other Peter who happens to have the same name.
What convinces me that this is our Peter is an 1879 probate file from Humboldt County – a 113-page gold mine!
The copy of his will definitely confirms this as our Peter, where he bequeaths half his assets to his “beloved wife Nancy” and the other half to his children, listed by name – including Salathiel.
So I wonder what Peter was doing in California for as many as 10 or more years, and apparently without his family? Humboldt County is on the northwest coast of California. It is densely forested and sparsely populated. From Mattole Township, the nearest town is Petrolia, where California’s first oil well was drilled in 1865.
In the census record his is listed as a farmer. There was a small amount of farming in the area, but nothing like the large-scale farming operations in the midwest. I don’t think Peter would have come here with farming in mind.
Reading the probate file is real hoot, and I recommend it if you have an Ancestry subscription. The estate inventory says he had a land claim, one-half interest in 80 head of cattle, “a lot of hogs”, mules, horses, one half interest in “800 lbs of bacon and 600 lbs of lard”, some saddles and a shotgun. It’s almost as if he was some sort of outfitter or supplier?
The settlement of the estate is pretty interesting. A gentleman by the name of “Elijah Boots” submitted a claim to the estate administrator for $150 for expenses associated with caring for Peter during his “final illness”. “Domingo Zanone” [update: read bio about Zanone here] had expenses of $12.50 to take care of Peter’s cattle and then ended up buying them himself. His other assets were sold – a Mr. George Hill bought a lot of the household goods and the bacon and lard. Joseph Buss and the “Swiss boys” bought the hogs. All these names sound like they’re straight out of a Larry McMurtry novel. Anyway, Peter’s assets were all sold for a total of $995.15.
The name “Elijah Boots” is unique enough that you can find him elsewhere on Ancestry. Curiously, he came from Preble County, Ohio. Coincidence? Or a friend (or relative?) from home?
Peter was deeply in debt when he died – I think he had to borrow money from friends when he got sick and it seems pretty legit. Still, when it was all said and done, his estate paid out settlements in the amount of $994.61, leaving a grand total of 54 cents to be divided between his beloved wife and children. Funny how that worked out!
It didn’t matter anyway – turns out that Nancy had died in February 1877 and is buried in a cemetery in Hutton Township, Coles County, Illinois. Peter wrote his will in August 1878 – apparently unaware that his wife was already dead.
I’d love to know what this family dysfunction was all about.