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William Henry Downing Probate

William Henry Downing Probate

William Henry Downing’s probate file came from the Logan County Circuit Clerk. Parts of it could be found at IRAD and the whole probate would be in the FamilySearch files.


On December 2, 1903, in the typhoid epidemic, William Henry Downing died. He was the only child of William Nelson Downing, who died in the Civil War, ironically of “typhoid pneumonia,” and Delilah Downing Downing. He was 40 years old, not expecting to die and had no will.





His heirs were his widow Eliza Harding Downing, sons Clarence, Charles Ellis, Ennis and Floyd. Clarence was 17 and Floyd was 7. [Floyd isn’t in the picture.]


The widow was named Administrix on December 8, 1903. David Shellhammer, husband of Delilah Downing Downing, and James Shellhammer, Delilah’s first son by her second marriage, stood as sureties. Appointed as appraisers were Lewis Upp, Charles Brooker and William Beckers, all three very close neighbors. Brooker would become the father in law of the eldest son Clarence. Upp was married to a Lincoln, descendant of the same immigrant ancestor as the more famous Lincoln.


They finished up their work promptly and reported on December 28, 1903, valuing the property of the estate at $4,700.25. The list is four pages long and is quite specific at times – “6 rocking chairs, 1 bay mare named Brownie, 1 red steer, 1 gray mare, 66 hogs” – and less specific at others – “1 lot of chickens” [which I first read as “a lot of chickens”]. 


The value of the widow’s property as prescribed by law, which included school books, a sewing machine, beds, one fourth of a cow for every family member [fortunately for the cow there were four members], two sheep for every family member, one horse, etc., was $1,281.50. 


The Administrix reported on March 23, 1907. There was $4,700.25 in receipts which included $599.37 for “property not sold but kept…to make up amount shown on appraisement bill.” In the long list of bills totalling $3,704.76 we learn that funeral expense was $263.75 and the stone cost $1,140. The balance after all bills was $995.49, less than the widows’ amount.





The land apparently passed separately. It is not mentioned. Each son received 80 acres which was farmed by son Ellis until the early 1970s. Most of it is now farmed by his grandson, Roy Downing.

Delilah Downing Downing Shellhammer Will

Delilah Downing Downing Shellhammer Will

Delilah Downing Downing Shellhammer was the youngest child of Robert Downing whose probate was previously discussed. I had never considered that she had a will or probate but I found it in the probate records posted online at FamilySearch. These probate files are more work to collect, not being word searchable, but they are also free. Help with the records





Delilah died June 22, 1909. She first married William Nelson Downing who died in the Civil War. She then married David Shellhammer. She had a son, William Henry Downing, by her first husband. William Henry died in 1903 leaving four sons. She had two sons, James and Albert, and two daughters, Sarah Jane Shellhammer West and Augusta Shellhammer Park, by her second husband. 


On June 1, 1909, Delilah executed a will. Delilah couldn’t write and had to sign it with her mark. Whether Delilah couldn’t write or was too ill to write at the time is unknown.


Delilah very carefully and specifically divided her property into fifths giving one fifth to each child and the remaining fifth to be equally among the heirs of her deceased son William. Her estate consisted of her personal effects and furniture and land in Section 1, Mt. Pulaski Township. She directed that one heir buy out all the others and that the others cooperate to do that.


Finally she named T. A. Scroggin executor of her will. There were no claims against the estate. Everyone cooperated and probate closed November 1, 1909. 


Some of Delilah’s descendants should have taken a lesson from her will.

Robert Downing Probate

Robert Downing Probate

This is the first of several planned posts on probate. This probate file was obtained in the standard way from the Logan County Circuit Court Clerk.



On June 14, 1887, Robert Downing died. The War of 1812 veteran and one of the earliest settlers in Logan County, Illinois, was 93 1/2 years old. He died without a will. Letters of Administration were not issued to his eldest surviving son, Robert Harden Downing, until January 3, 1888. As he died with little money, no land and two of his daughters were given a lump sum by agreement of all other heirs it would appear he had carefully divested himself of most of his property, probably beginning after the death of his wife Jane Morrow Downing on May 16, 1882.


The heirs of Robert Downing were the four daughters of his deceased eldest son John, son Robert Harden who was the administrator, daughter Mary Downing Roberts, son Lorenzo, son Alexander, the son of his deceased son Henry Clay, daughter Melita Downing Downing [correction added March 23, 2012] daughter Elizabeth Downing Downing, daughter Delilah Downing Downing Shellhammer. One child, Hannah, had died young.


At the time of his death Robert was receiving a pension of $24, apparently per year, for his War of 1812 service. In the estate was an uncashed check for $24 which was characterized as “utterly worthless” as the government refused to pay it.


Daughters Elizabeth and Delilah, the youngest of the children, were given $200 each which all of the other heirs agreed was proper so that they “might equally share the estate.” This seems to indicate the others already had their $200 at the time of death. Each heir signed off on the agreement. Their individual affidavits tell us where they were located at the time as well as their name. 


The stone for Robert cost $23.75. I would have to guess this is the “Father” stone at the side of the major stone for Robert and Jane. In the foreground is the War of 1812 marker.





When all was said and done, exclusive of the $400 above, each of the eight heirs received only $53.28. The four daughters of John each received $13.32. Elizabeth died after her father but before the disbursement. Each of her eight children got $6.66.

Vital Records and Alternates

Vital Records and Alternates

In 1900 only 18 states [including future states] registered vital records. It was not mandatory in all of those, but it was encouraged.

Thus you might find vital records in Vermont back to 1779, Massachusetts 1842, New Jersey 1843, Connecticut 1859, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Virginia 1853, Delaware 1861, Florida 1865, Michigan 1867, Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York 1880, Illinois 1887, Maine 1892, North Dakota 1893, Maryland 1898.

Illinois did not mandate the registration of vital records with the state until 1916. Marriage records were always kept but birth and death were not. Logan County has marriage records back to 1857 but marriage records also exist for 1820-1839 under Sangamon County at IRAD. The only missing records are those for 1839-1856 due to the courthouse fire.

Logan has sporadic birth and death records dating to 1878. Probate records go back to 1855 and, again, there are earlier records at IRAD. Deeds go back to 1829. Court records date to 1857. Initial land purchases from the beginning are at the Bureau of Land Management.

The 1855 Illinois State Census for Logan County exists as well as the federal census records for all years. There is also the 1862 Military Census. Remember that Logan County is covered in the 1830 Sangamon County federal census. Census images for 1830 Sangamon, 1840 and 1850 Logan are online free along with lists for the 1855 Logan County state census and the 1862 military census. Go to the Logan County ILGenWeb site for links.

Cemetery lists for many cemeteries are online at the Logan County site. The Decatur Genealogical Society has cemetery listings made in the 1960s and early 1970 for most cemeteries in books which they sell quite reasonably. The Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society has some cemetery books and several history books with name indexes.