Monday, November 2, 2009

Don't Forget the Spinster Aunt

I'm looking for the will of my great-great-great grandfather, John Laurens Williamson. I've rented several films from the Family History Library in my search. So far, I haven't found it, but there are plenty of records I still need to inspect.

What I did find was a will for Bettie Williamson (1856-1908). She was the fourth child of John Williamson and Susan Quesenberry. Bettie never married, which may lead some to think her will wouldn't be historically valuable to my needs. Not so.

Here's a little lesson: don't forget the spinster aunt. With no husband or children to whom she can bequeath her estate, the names she does mention may give hint to the overall family dynamic.

Below are some of the tidbits I pulled from the will of my spinster aunt:

1. The married name of Bettie's only surviving sister is (Kate) Wharton.

2. Bettie has an interest in the "Carden estate in Yell County near Dardanelle." Hmmm....Carden is the married name of Bettie's deceased sister Julia. Could there be a connection? Now I have a location and new county to search regarding this Carden estate. I also need to look for a will for Julia Williamson Carden in Yell County to try and figure out why Bettie is connected to this estate.

3. Three different family members borrowed money from Bettie and she's acknowledged their names debts in this document. One is her brother (my great-great grandfather) and the other two are Whartons (possibly nephews). More names to investigate on my part.

4. The names of both of Bettie's brothers are given.

5. Bettie leaves much to her niece Thula. I happen to know Thula lost her mother 10 days after birth, and Bettie played a big role in the girl's life. The language and amount left to Thula (age 14 at Bettie's death) indicates the strength of the bond between aunt and niece.

6. Bettie left her estate to the women in her life: her sister and motherless niece. Bettie's brothers are mentioned affectionately--indicating a positive relationship--but they only inherit if Thula and any future offspring should pass on.

7. At the time of Bettie's death, Thula was living in Duncan, Stephens County, Oklahoma. Correspondence between the county clerks of Stephens, OK and Pope, AR confirms that. I already knew this, but had I not, Bettie's will would have opened new doors for family research in a whole other state. My next step will be to do some research on the Oklahoma end and see what I can learn about Thula's inheritance.

I hope I'll find the will of my third great grandfather, but if I don't, the wills of peripheral relatives may assist in adding pieces to the family puzzle. Never forget the spinster aunt. She may surprise you.

[Note: This document can be found in the Family History Library film number 1034017: ARKANSAS: Pope County. Index to Wills. Pope County (Arkansas) Courthouse, Volume B, pages 377-380. I have digital images and a transcription of this document, which I will share upon request. Email me at the address provided in the right column of this blog.]


  1. Good reminder. I have also found that some of my spinster aunts have quite fascinating life stories, well worth researching for their own sake!

  2. This is great advice. I always take a strong interest in my ancestors' unmarried siblings (part of the topic of the Dec 1 COG, by the way) and it pays off.

  3. You found so much good info! I just found a real surprise about my spinster aunt, that may have been a factor in the whole family immigrating to America.

  4. Just clicked on Pope County to look at all your entries...

    My Whartons were from Alabama and Georgia before they got here to Arkansas.

    Kate Williamson married John Thomas Wharton in 1871 in Pope County. John Thomas is one of the Whartons I've been trying to place for several years now. He was born in Kentucky, and a lot of people think his father's name was Jesse. He named one of his own sons Jesse Lawrence...

    I know he is connected somehow to the Alabama and Georgia Whartons (he and Kate died in Oklahoma).

    Your post here makes me see I need to look harder...