Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Will & Testament of Hannah Nickett

A couple of month ago, I sent an email request to the New Hampshire State House to request the probate records of grandfathers Ludovicus Towle, Elbridge Gerry Towle and his wife, Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett.  Last week, I received an email from them indicating that they had in their holdings the probate records of both Ludovicus Towle and Hannah Nickett - nothing for grandfather Elbridge Towle (Grrrr!).

Ludovicus Towle died intestate (without a will) in 1859.  I received a few pages of the total inventory of his farm and belongings (I'm still working on deciphering the tiny, mid-19th c. handwriting, but it's fabulous reading); Hannah Nickett did leave a will.  And this is it:

                                                                    (click to enlarge)

Last Will and Testament of Hannah Clayton (Towle) Nickett (4th July 1905)


I, Hannah J Nickett, of Kingston, in the county of Rockingham, and the state of New Hampshire, do make this my last will and testament.

I give and bequeath to each of my children, Rose Ann Pratt, wife of Fred W. Pratt, Hannah J. Dole, wife of Elias P. Dole; Ida Bly wife of Daniel Bly; Mary L Muzzy widow of Arthur E Muzzy and Gary Towle, the sum of one dollar each; and to my said daugther, Mary L. Muzzy all the rest and residue of my estate, real and personal after the payment of legal claims against the same.

I do hereby constitute and appoint Robert C Bryden of Haverhill in the County of Essex, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts, sole executor of this my last will and testament and request that he be required to give no bond or surety for the faithful discharge of said trust.

Witness my hand and seal this 4th of July 1905
Hannah J Nickett

Signed and sealed by the above named Hannah J Nickett as her last will and testament and by us in her presence and at her request, subscribed as witnesses.

Mary F Peaslee 
Horace M Hills
William N Hills

I found a couple of things of interest:  First, the estate of Hannah Nickett was worth much more than $5.  She still owned a few acres of land in Kingston, her house, along with all of her personal and household belongings.  How can leaving $1 to children Rose, Hannah, Gerry, and Ida not be personal commentary on her relationships with them?  While her son, Gerry Towle had left for California nearly a decade prior to the creation of this document, clearly geography played no part as she didn't leave my grandmother Rose Pratt or my Aunts Hannah Dole and Ida Blye any more or less than their brother Gerry.  Both my grandmother Rose and her sisters Hannah and Ida were living nearby in Haverhill, Salisbury, and Revere Massachusetts.  Like my grandmother, my Aunt Mary Muzzey was also living in Haverhill.  Though Aunt Mary was the only one of her children without a living spouse or children, Hannah could have mentioned in her will that the intention in leaving virtually everything to Mary was done in effort provide Mary additional financial security- she didn't do this.  Had she entirely failed to mention Rose, Hannah, Gerry, or Ida there would have been grounds to claim that the will was in error and thus could be contested (had any of them desired to do so).  Leaving them each a single dollar makes this impossible.  It says, "I remember you; I just don't wish to leave anything to you."  It's the equivalent of leaving your waiter a handful of pennies; which is worse than leaving them nothing at all.  This isn't the first time I've gotten the impression that my grandmother Hannah Nickett could be rather petty.

Also, Hannah Nickett mentions each of her children by name, along with their spouses; even the deceased spouse of Mary Towle Muzzey, Arthur E Muzzey gets a mention by name. The only spouse not mentioned by name is son Gerry Towle's wife, Gertrude Pickering Towle, who was very much alive in 1905 and had been married to her son for 22 years.  Hannah Nickett bought and sold a half-dozen parcels of land in Kingston and was completely familiar with the custom of mentioning the name of the spouse of the person buying/selling/obtaining/giving/receiving something of value on legal documents - if the intention is to convey the duel ownership.  That she mentions all her children's spouses but Gertrude is...interesting.  Hannah Nickett did the same thing to her daughter-in-law Gertrude in 1893 when she deeded her son Gerry Towle an acre of land in Kingston - no mention of his wife Gertrude on the document though Gerry and Gertrude had been married for a decade at the time.

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Hannah's deed of Kingston, NH land to son Gerry Towle (1893)

While it is true, a person has free will to be as petty and punitive as they choose to be in life, if they put it on paper and make it official, their granddaughter born 3 generations after the fact is free to obtain the documents and judge them as such.


So there.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Genealogical Ketchup

Yesterday, I received an email from the New Hampshire State Records office in response to my inquiry regarding probate records for grandfathers Ludovicus Towle, Elbridge Gerry Towle, and grandmother, Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett.  Unfortunately, there is no probate record for EG Towle in Rockingham County.  He remains elusive.  I can't find a birth record or death record for him.

I'm hoping to have a couple of questions answered within the other probate records:  Did Ludovicus Towle have any other children beyond son EG Towle?   And what did EG's wife, Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett leave in her will to the rest of her children?  New Hampshire land deeds have show that following her death, two of her children, Mary L Towle Muzzey and Gerry Towle, received land in Kingston, NH.  Did her other children, Rose Towle Pratt, Hannah Towle Dole and Ida Nickett Blye receive anything?  If so...what?

In other news, I got a message over on from someone working on a tree for a friend.  Turns out, this friend is the great-grandson of Ida Nickett Blye.  Ida Nickett Blye is the daughter of Hannah Clayton Towle Nickett and her second husband following the death of EG Towle.  His mother searched out their Blye-Nickett line back in the 1980's but didn't get much information on them.  We have since made email contact and shared information.  He, cousin Chris, was kind enough to send along a photo of his grandmother Ida.  

Ida Mabel Nickett Towle
Chris tells me that Ida was alive up until 1964 - the year I was born.  Amazing.  He isn't sure when this photograph was taken but looking at it, the details of her clothing lead me to think that it was probably around the turn of the last century.  

While looking through my cousin Lisa Cochran Berl's old photos, I stumbled across this one.  Our grandmother Rose Towle Pratt.

Rose Ann Towle Pratt

Cousin Sally O'Connell should weigh in with her opinion but I find a striking resemblance between Rose and my cousin, Bill O'Connell.  This photo of Rose was also taken around the turn of the last century.  Rose looks considerably older than Ida - there was 17 year age difference between these siblings.  This age difference is also the reason why Ida is Chris' great-grandmother and Rose is my great-great grandmother.  Rose gave birth to my great-grandfather Walter Pratt, when Ida was 4..

I also found this on cousin Lisa's family archive:  A announcement for her shower thrown for her grandmother, Elizabeth (Betty) Clayton Pratt 

What's interesting about this - beyond the charming details of the newspaper social page reporting, is the attendance of one of her guests: Floris McCurdy.  Floris is my grandfather's Fred Pratt's first wife.  No one talked about this marriage; I didn't learn of it until after his death.  Lisa's grandmother Betty was only 3 years older than her nephew, my grandfather Fred Pratt.  Rose had 9 children, my grandfather Walter was #2, her grandmother Betty was #9.  I suspect Betty Pratt Birdsall was more like a cousin than an aunt to my grandfather Fred.   My grandfather Walter got married the same year (1900) that his sister Betty was born.

I've sent off for EG Towle's Court Martial record - all 66 pages of it.  I should hear back relatively soon as they tell me that they've already pulled the record and made the copies.  The more I work on EG and get nowhere, the more determined I am to see that he get at least a marble slab memorial courtesy of the US government.  No birth record (so far), no death record beyond his muster rolls and the government can't tell me what they did with his body after his death following the Battle of the Crater - which he survived for over a doesn't seem right.  I don't know if I'm going to have to search manifests of the hospital ships in area at the time; or even if there is any, but it bothers me to no end that he has nothing to show for the sacrifice of his life in the Civil War.