52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2018 #9 – Where There’s a Will


“Be it remembered heretofore (blah, blah, blah) in the name of God Amen I John Adair (blah blah blah) of the city of Cambria county of Niagara state of New York being of sound mind and seventy three years old and being mindful of my mortality do this second day of June in the year of our Lord One Thousand Eighteen Hundred and fifty six make and publish this my Last Will and Testament.”  John Adair died October 1, 1856.

The wording in Wills and Testaments has been standardized for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, according to Plutarch, provided this tool to bequeath, at death, belongings to family members, and by name bestow certain possessions to certain family members. The Ancient Romans added more benefit to the wording and the Roman influence on English law which dominates American law brought Wills and Testaments into the document we know today, sort of a ‘fill in the blank’ to a prepared text format.

The paragraph above quotes John Adair born in County Down, Ireland who was my 5th great grandfather whose descending line is daughter Mary Adair who married James Totten born in County Tyrone, Ireland (also a Revolutionary War Veteran who died at age 44 of disease just after the Battle of Bull Run) whose son was William Totten whose daughter was Mary Phoebe ‘Birdie’ Totten who married John C. Brace whose daughter was Lulu Brace Hancock Baber whose son was Bernard Hancock – Grandpa Hancock.


In my “stuff” I have hand written copies of Wills from David Foreman our immigrant ancestor from Germany; Solomon Sprague whose daughter married Luther Brace; Levi Squires mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago; Thomas Brigham immigrant ancestor from England who settled on land now occupied by Harvard University. Some of the best preserved records of early ancestors are Wills and Testaments.

George Soule Signature

Our Mayflower ancestor’s Will  “George Soule Sr, of Duxbury dated 11 Aug 1677, codicil dated 20 Sept 1677 inventory 22 Jan 1679 gave lands in Dartmouth to sons Nathaniel and George; mentions lands in “Middleberry” formerly given to daus. Elizabeth and Patience; names daus. Susanna and Mary; eldest son John to have the remainder of his housing and lands. The codicil warned son John that if he disturbed daughter Patience, then Patience was to have the house and lands at Duxburrow.” Susanna is the head of our descending line (down to Grace Irene Squires whose daughter is Grandma Hancock)  Susanna and Mary received a very small amount of money but no land.

Sid's Steam Engine cutting sod 1898

Sid Foreman’s steam engine

From the Wills I have reviewed I can confirm that we had no rich relatives however most lived comfortably as a result of hard work. Most possessions at the time of death were cooking pots, farming tools, a rocking chair or two, horses and cattle. For those ancestors who did not own their land at the time of death a public sale would be held to raise the money to pay off the mortgage. For those who did own their land, being a farming family typically meant there were anywhere from 6 to 10 children. Often times the sons worked out the division of the inherited land or not in some cases, thus disrupting the unity of the family.

So, in honor of John Adair and James Totten, the patriarchs of our immigrant Irish ancestors, on this St. Patrick’s Day have a cold one and give them a wink and a nod for coming to America.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks next week #10 – Strong Woman.