Monday, March 3, 2014

#52Ancestors (9) Peter Countryman, Dead and In Debt

Peter COUNTRYMAN died. He was intestate. And he was in debt.

Peter had quite a file of documents that I located at the State Archives of Michigan in Lansing several years ago. Sometimes being in debt isn't such a bad thing: it produces paperwork.

Peter was a son of Jacob COUNTRYMAN and Margarethe MEYER and was born about 1800. He and a number of his siblings moved from Ontario to New York to Ohio, finally settling in Ingham County, Michigan in the 1830's. Much of his early life is unknown. His wife was Matilda AMES and they had seven known children: Rachel, Joseph, Isaac, Jacob (previous post), Margaret, Daniel, and Peter. Matilda likely died even before Peter. 

An early settler in Phelpstown Township, Ingham County, Michigan, Peter owned a 40 acre farm. For reasons unknown, he had a large debt to his brother Jacob for $13.00. Then before the loan was repaid, Peter died intestate, or without a Will, on 30 August 1844. And he owed a lot of money. Having no Will means there is no legal direction to pay debts or distribute assets. The court will appoint an impartial administrator to appraise the assets and allow any claims to be filed for payment from those assets. 

Let the paper trail begin!

$13 note due Jacob Countryman, 1842
Coffin bill, 1844
$1.93 land tax bill, 1847

Here is a timeline of the documents in Peter's probate file:

This is the final administrator's report of all of the debts Peter owed to various merchants, as well as costs incurred during the administration of the estate:

Administrator's inventory, 1848
There were no documents discharging the administrator. However, since the real estate was the last item in the inventory, this was probably the end of the court matter: can't get blood from a stone, as they say.

Finding a 170 year old probate file was a huge coup. It answered questions, while raising others. It mentioned Peter's brother and named in-laws and neighbors. It described his land and all of his household possessions. It even contained a promissory note with his signature!

It did not, however, mention his wife or his children. We know the children were set up in local households after their parents' deaths, but it would be nice to have details. I don't know where Peter and Matilda are buried.

But the most intriguing piece of this file was this scrap of a note:

...much obliged to...
...Mother and...
...George is wel...
...kiss the children...

Kiss the children? Whose children? Who wrote this?

Some secrets, and debts, will be taken to the grave.

(c) 2014 Sally Knudsen


  1. I just recently obtain a similar kind of file for my great-great-grandfather who also died intestate and in debt so this post was really interesting to me. I'll be posting about my ancestor and his file when I finish transcribing all the pages. It's all so sad when there are children involved. Thanks for posting.

    1. It is sad but certainly interesting to find a probate. I ope it opens some doors for you, too!

  2. Sally - What an interesting post! I really enjoyed it. How fortunate to find all that paperwork even if the circumstances weren't the best. I'm especially taken with the last note. Was that in Peter's packet as well? Maybe this post will generate some info on Peter, Matilda and the kids! Good luck in your continued research!

    1. Thanks Cindy. Yes, the note was part of the packet. Not sure we'll ever know it's entire meaning :)

  3. Sally, I too have an ancestor in similar circumstances as your Peter Countryman. During the 1790's in Rockingham Co., VA my Daniel Joseph enjoyed good times and real financial crisis. At one point he declared himself an insolvent debtor and died soon afterward. I learned about him using Rockingham Co. Minute and Judgement books on microfilm which I borrowed via interlibray loan with the Library of VA. As a matter of fact, I'm preparing a blog post about this and hope to publish it soon at Barb's Family Stories

    1. Thanks for the comment, Barbara. Many of these old documents are so fascinating...and so helpful! Good luck with your search, too.