In searching for our ancestors, genealogists make a lot of assumptions. Most of these assumptions are based on our personal, cultural and linguistic traditions. From time to time, these traditions clash with our personal prejudices and the goals we wish to achieve because of those prejudices. In the United States, from time to time, some of our genealogical conventions are challenged in the court system. One such case was decided by the Supreme Court of Washington back in 1964 and is cited as follows:
In re Kurtzman's Estate, 396 P. 2nd 786, 1964 (Wash: Supreme Court)
The wording of one of the footnotes to this case caught my attention. Here is the wording of the footnote as it quotes one of the statutes of the State of Washington:
RCW 11.04.020(6). "If the decedent leaves no issue, nor husband, nor wife, and no father nor mother, nor brother, nor sister, the estate must go to the next of kin, in equal degree, excepting that when there are two or more collateral kindred in equal degree, but claiming through different ancestors, those who claim through the nearest ancestor must be preferred to those claiming through an ancestor more remote." (Italics ours.)The reference to "RCW 11.04.020(6)" is to the Revised Code of Washington, Title 11 Probate and Trust Law, Descent and distribution, Section 020 (6) which has apparently been amended and is now RCW 11.04.015 which reads as follows:
Descent and distribution of real and personal estate.
The net estate of a person dying intestate, or that portion thereof with respect to which the person shall have died intestate, shall descend subject to the provisions of RCW 11.04.250 and 11.02.070, and shall be distributed as follows:Sometimes I feel it is almost amusing to hear various genealogists, when teaching classes or helping those less experienced, advising their students to "search the probate records." The fact situation in the Kurtzman's Estate case is an illustration of the origin of my amusement.
(1) Share of surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner. The surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner shall receive the following share:
(a) All of the decedent's share of the net community estate; and
(b) One-half of the net separate estate if the intestate is survived by issue; or
(c) Three-quarters of the net separate estate if there is no surviving issue, but the intestate is survived by one or more of his or her parents, or by one or more of the issue of one or more of his or her parents; or
(d) All of the net separate estate, if there is no surviving issue nor parent nor issue of parent.
(2) Shares of others than surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner. The share of the net estate not distributable to the surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, or the entire net estate if there is no surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, shall descend and be distributed as follows:
(a) To the issue of the intestate; if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, they shall take equally, or if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.
(b) If the intestate not be survived by issue, then to the parent or parents who survive the intestate.
(c) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, then to those issue of the parent or parents who survive the intestate; if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, they shall take equally, or, if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.
(d) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, or by any issue of the parent or parents who survive the intestate, then to the grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate; if both maternal and paternal grandparents survive the intestate, the maternal grandparent or grandparents shall take one-half and the paternal grandparent or grandparents shall take one-half.
(e) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, or by any issue of the parent or parents or by any grandparent or grandparents, then to those issue of any grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate; taken as a group, the issue of the maternal grandparent or grandparents shall share equally with the issue of the paternal grandparent or grandparents, also taken as a group; within each such group, all members share equally if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, or, if some be of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.
At the time of his death H.A. Kurtzman was the owner of 1,499 shares of the capital stock of the James Henry Packing Company and of certain furniture, all of which had been bequeathed to him by his aunt, Sophia Braman Henry, his mother's sister.
Decedent, who died intestate, was not survived by spouse, issue, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, uncles or aunts, nor was he survived by any kindred of the half blood. He was survived by nine paternal first cousins (respondents) who are of the fourth degree of kinship, all descendants of his paternal grandparents (the Kurtzman blood line); and (b) by two maternal first cousins once removed (appellants) who are of the fifth degree of kinship, descendants of his maternal grandparents (the Braman blood line). Sophia Braman Henry, who bequeathed the specific property in question to decedent, was the great aunt of appellants and their grandmother by her adoption of their mother.The discussion of the Court in this case is an involved discussion of the grammar of the now-superseded statute. The issue here is who gets the property.
From a genealogical standpoint, you can probably see that the analysis of the Court is valuable genealogical information. But guess what? Searching the probate court cases in Washington would probably not provided this clarification of the relationships, especially the reference to the fact that of the adoption of the "great aunt."
Here, the State of Washington has an extremely extensive online digital collection. I was able to find a copy of 1910 U.S. Census Record that shows a Henry A. Kurtzman, as a child.
First, can you read the statutes cited above and tell me what they mean? This is the kind of language that takes someone who wants to become an attorney a considerable effort to understand.
Next, can you understand the explanation of the relationships described by the Court and did you pick up the reference to an adoption?
I could go on, but my purpose in writing about this subject is that genealogy is, by its nature, a complex and very detail oriented persuasion. Just as going to law school is not for those who do not want to spend a great deal of time reading and studying, genealogy requires an understanding of many different disciplines and the terminology used by lawyers, doctors, historians, government agencies and many other sources of records. But even more important is the fact that this law case, which I readily found through using Google Scholar, contains some valuable information possibly previously unknown to the genealogical researcher and this may be the only place where this particular information is recorded in such detail. How many of us as genealogists think to search court records beyond simply looking for a probate record?
There are many lessons to learn from this example.