Estate Questions

Estate Questions

You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.

Q. I have the estate record of Isaac Cornelius, who died in Muskingum County, Ohio, in 1822. Not one family member was paid money from his estate, except a Jacob Cornelius who is not found anywhere in Ohio records. According to land records from Muskingum County, this Isaac’s heirs were Elizabeth Cornelius, Sarah Cornelius, Christopher Cornelius (our direct line), William Cornelius, etc. Would the names of these people have been Isaac’s children? It clearly states in the land records from Ohio that these people were Isaac’s heirs.
Also, in 1807 Huntingdon County, Pa., records, an Isaac Cornelius was imprisoned for bad debts. He turns over his personal property to a Jacob Cornelius for handling of his debts. When Isaac was released from prison he disappears from Pennsylvania records. I believe the Isaac who was imprisoned is the same Isaac who purchased land in Muskingum County, Ohio, in 1814 and was counted in the 1820 census. He must have died in 1822 since a Jacob received money from his estate.


A. The names of Elizabeth, Sarah, Christopher, William, and others as his “heirs” would indicate they were related to him and to each other, especially since the surname is the same. Did Isaac have a will, or did he die intestate (without a will)? Did his wife survive him? Are there additional probate or guardianship records in the county records?
If Isaac left a will, it may clear up some of these questions. Have you looked for minute books of the court of common pleas in Muskingum County to look for any further information about Isaac’s probate? If the heirs were minors, even tax records (if they exist) could indicate their relationship to Isaac.
If Isaac died intestate as a widower and the heirs were selling equal shares in his property, then they normally would have been his children. If they were selling the entire piece of property, not just portions or their shares of it, it would appear they were all his surviving children. If such a person as Isaac had no children, heirs normally would be brothers and sisters with equal shares, or their children splitting a deceased parent’s share.
Do the names in the land records appear to match Isaac’s family’s makeup in the 1820 census? Do the land records indicate that the sellers had different shares of interest in the estate? Have you identified or studied further all the listed heirs? Sometimes, deed records do not spell out shares of interest but just list the names. Then it is up to the researcher to determine whether one may have been his widow or some may have been grandchildren whose parent-and-heir was deceased. Much also depends on the individual circumstances of the case, such as Isaac’s age and marital status when he died.
As for the Pennsylvania Jacob and the possible Pennsylvania connection of Isaac, you may be on to something. Have you studied Isaac’s children in censuses of 1880 or after, if they lived that long, or in death records? Do they indicate Pennsylvania as a birthplace of their father? Were any of Isaac’s children born in Pennsylvania, as suggested in their census, death, or other records? You also need to study that Jacob in Pennsylvania records. Was he of age to be a son or nephew of Isaac? Or perhaps a brother or cousin or father?
Identifying the one Jacob’s relationship to Isaac, as suggested in Isaac’s estate record, would depend on the wording of the record. Was he paid money as “his share” of the estate (which would usually indicate a son or a specific bequest from a will) or in the capacity of administrator, executor, guardian of minors, or someone to whom money was owed? Keep an open mind that the two Jacobs could be two different men or could be the same person. You can also check on Ohio probate law at the time of Isaac’s death to see if there may be other possibilities to help explain the estate information you have.
Also visit Family Tree Shop for genealogy guides from Emily Anne Croom including The Genealogist’s Companion and Sourcebook and  The Sleuth Book for Genealogists

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