Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Wills - The sons of William and the daughters of Jessie

I had some free time the other night, and jumped into my own family tree for an hour or two. I was looking through my lines, trying to decide which one to research, when my Bergstad line caught my eye. I started sifting through them, and came upon Turby Bergstad, the oldest child of my 2nd-great-grandparents Knute Bergstad and Betsy Olson. As I was looking at her husband, William Clyde Cornell, and their children (among whom was Andy Cornell, my grandpa Tom Bergstad's cousin and close friend), I saw that I didn't have really any info on William - no parents, siblings, or anything. I went digging, and pretty soon found his family in census records in Wisconsin, where he was from. I found his parents were William H. Cornell and Jessie Butterfield. William the dad was from Vermont, while Jessie was from Wisconsin. William's parents were Stephen Cornell and Almira Wolridge, while Jessie's parents were Thaddeus Butterfield and Jessie Webb. I have always liked the name Thaddeus, ever since I saw Disney's Atlantis, and now I'm (distantly) related to one!

I wanted to see what happened to William and Jessie, so I poked around Ancestry for a while, and found that they both left wills. Bonus! I found Jessie's first, but as I read through it, I found something I have never seen in a will - she deliberately left her sons out of her will, and said so. She even said why she was doing it - because they would be provided for in her husband's will. The exact language is:

I do not devise or bequeath to my sons any of my property, for I expect they will be taken care of in the will of my husband. 

She left everything to her daughters, and described how everything was to be divvied up between the three of them. The will was dated 4 December 1917, but I haven't found Jessie's death info yet, so I don't know how much time passed between when her will was written and when it was probated. Unless Jessie's husband was near death though, she was leaving her sons' inheritance to be settled potentially decades in the future.

So how long was it between the two wills? About ten years, as William's will was recorded on 4 October 1927. And just like Jessie's will, William's specifically leaves out his daughters with these words:
I do not make any bequests or devises to my daughters, Jessie Bredesen and Grace Browning, for the reason that I have helped them some what in the past and because they have been provided for by the will of my deceased wife, she having made certain provisions for them in her will.

So obviously this was planned out intentionally by Jessie and William (and it looks like one of the daughters died between the making of the two wills). I have to wonder what made them decide to do this. There doesn't seem to be any ill will for the sons or daughters by either parent, or bad feeling for either parent for each other. Maybe they thought that was how you do it - men for men and women for women. Would they have still done this if they had had fewer children? I wonder what their children thought of the deal, and whether either group thought they were being dealt with unfairly. There's no way to know for sure, of course, but I do wonder.

It just goes to show you, every ancestor, every document, is an individual case, and you really could find anything in it.

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