You can tell a lot about a person from their will when it is combined with other genealogical documents. When someone makes a will, they have the chance to express their feelings about their family and friends. Sometimes it is very sweet and magnanimous with everything divided equally between siblings and the family all feel the love of the departed. Maybe a cousin who helped them in the past is rewarded with a ring she once admired or charities that made a difference during a critical point in their life are given generous donations. Sometimes the deceased might love their child, but they didn’t trust that they wouldn’t spend the inheritance quickly and foolishly, so there are tight strings on the purse during the remainder of their life.
And sometimes a will gives people a chance to right wrongs and address grievances. It can be the last chance to control the resources and divvy them out just as they believe it should be. They can direct funds to ones they love or hate in a specific direction. It can give people the final word in a long argument.
I have seen a lot of wills over the last 10 years and most fall into the first category of loving generosity, but some have fallen into the last category. And let’s face it, these are much more fun and interesting!
I have written quite a bit about William Cork, my English 2nd great grandfather who came to Wisconsin in 1869. I admire his grit and kindness raising 10 children as a tailor. One of his sons was deaf and another blind and he sent them both to schools that would help educate them and develop skills to live in the world independently. But I don’t think he loved all his children equally. I think he may have been very disappointed in one of them and that just happens to be my direct ancestor, my Great-Grandfather Frank Cork.
I have a lot of evidence that Frank was a cad and maybe much more than that, but this is just one piece of the puzzle. At the time of William’s death in 1916, two of his children had died (Charles and Harry) and there were only eight left. He left his estate to seven of them equally: Salina Conover, Bertha Nye, Hugh Cork, Arthur Cork, Edwin Cork, Walter Cork and Wilfred Cork.
His estate was worth approximately $850.00 which in today’s dollars would be worth about $20,000. Not a lot of money but for someone who made a modest income and had raised so many children, he had done well to save anything. Each of William’s children would have received about $120.00.
And what did he leave my Great Grandfather Frank? $5.00! I think it says it all, don’t you?