Monday, September 27, 2010

From the Will to the Estate Packet - Part 1

Wills are often the documents that help us break down brick walls. At the very least, they usually contain a lot of key information, such as lists of children, or at least confirm information we already have or suspect. The will can, in a certain snapshot form, tell a story.

But the will does not tell the entire story. I learned this the hard way.

The will of my great-great grandfather, William Spencer Moore, was signed on 25 July 1865. William Spencer Moore died on 31 October 1871. It appeared to be your basic will, with the simplest possible instructions for taking care of his wife and surviving children:

Will of William Spencer Moore

In the name of God Amen. I William Spencer Moore of the State of South Carolina and Anderson District being of feeble body but sound mind and disposing memory calling to mind the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life and feeling disposed to will deed bequeath all that it hath pleased Almighty to place in my hands, in manner following Viz

Item first. I will and bequeath unto my beloved wife Emily Moore all my Estate, both personal and real to remain as it now is during the natural life or widowhood of my said Wife, but should my said wife ever marry then I will and bequeath that said Estate both personal and real be sold and the one third of the proceeds thereof be given by my hereinafter Administrator to my said Wife and the remainder thereof be equally divided among my beloved Children Share and Share alike Viz Preston E. Moore (should he be living) Harlston Perin Moore Commodore Worth Moore William Brewster Moore & Anna Jerusha Moore.

Item Second. I will that my said Estate be Administered upon with this my last Will annexed so soon after the death or marriage of my said wife as practicable and that distribution thereof be made according to this my last Will and Testament.

Item Third. I will that my said Administrator pay all my just debts out of means that there may be on hand, should there be any means on hand, but if there should be no means on hand, then I will and bequeath that so much of my personal Estate as may be necessary be sold as will pay my just debts out of what can be best spared from the family.

Item Fourth. I will and bequeath my body to be decently buried as my family may wish and my Soul I commend unto God in the Hope of blessed immortality beyond the Grave.

Item fifth. I publish this my last Will and Testament hereby revoking all former Wills by me at any time made, and declare this to be my last and Testament written on Three pages of paper and signed, sealed and published in the presence of the subscribing Witnesses this 25th day of July 1865.

W. S. Moore (LS)

W.B. Long
J. N. Shirley
L.D. Harris

The State of South Carolina ) Probate Court
Anderson County ) Probate Will

Present Honorable A. O. Sims Probate Judge for the County of Anderson.

Personally appeared L. D. Harris subscribing witness to the annexed instrument of writing purporting to be the last Will and Testament of William S. Moore, late of Anderson County, deceased, who being duly sworn, deposeth and saith that he was present and did see the said instrument of writing duly executed by the said William S. Moore. And deponent further saith that said William S. Moore at the time of executing the said instrument of writing was to the best of deponent’s knowledge and belief of sound and disposing mind, memory and understanding and that L. D. Harris (the deponent) and W. B. Long and J. N. Shirley in the presence of each other and of the said William S. Moore and at his request signed their names as witnesses to the due execution of the same.

Sworn and subscribed to before me this Ninth day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and Seventy two.
L.D. Harris

These were the notes I made right after I obtained a copy of the will, based on my own observations and additional information provided by a couple of people with whom I shared the will:

“Items of information:

Witnesses are:

W.B. Long – Wiliam Berry Long (1828-1901, m. Jane Smith) was a school teacher, then Baptist preacher. Witnesses to the will of Samuel Moore, the father of William Spencer Moore, were George Long, Alfred Long, and Brasher Henderson, who was probably married to a Long. This points to a probable family connection to the Longs.

J. N. Shirley – William Brewster Moore, the son of William Spencer Moore, married into the Shirley family and they lived nearby. J. N. Shirley was John Newton Shirley (b. 1834, m. Elizabeth Jane Masters); Masters was the daughter of Baptist Rev. George Washington Masters, who lived at Five Forks/Lebanon (info from Kim Wilson).

L.D. Harris – Lorenzo Dow Harris (1837-1913) m. Rachel Elizabeth Shirley, sister of J. N. Shirley. They lived in Hopewell Twp.

William Spencer Moore was in poor health at the time of the will but did not die until 31 October 1871 and apparently ran for office between the date of the will and the date of his death. He may have taken ill with one of the diseases epidemic in the country during and after the Civil War.

Preston E. Moore, the oldest son of William Spencer Moore, most likely was Missing in Action in the Civil War. This may have been an additional blow to W. S. Moore’s health.”

Beyond these items, the will helped me to form an impression of the William Spencer Moore/Emily Tarrant family. The key phrase was:

“… the remainder thereof be equally divided among my beloved Children Share and Share alike Viz Preston E. Moore (should he be living) Harlston Perin Moore Commodore Worth Moore William Brewster Moore & Anna Jerusha Moore.”

I saw a loving father counseling his children to “share and share alike” who was probably also in a state of grief that two months after the end of the Civil War, his oldest son, Preston Moore, had not returned and most likely had perished. The tragic perception of the loss of Preston Moore inspired me to start a long quest to learn his experiences and fate in the war. This was recounted in “Orphans and Orphans: Searching for Preston Moore” and “The Two Preston Moores.”

This tender view of William Spencer Moore grew into an image of a close-knit family, some of whom eventually – perhaps in response to the hardships of life in the South of the Reconstruction – left the home place and struck out to find better fortunes elsewhere.

So much of this image was wrong. And it was the estate packet that told the full story.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


  1. I'm constantly amazed at my own ability to project my wishes, values, opinions onto those I research - and I know better. It's so difficult not too. I'm looking forward to the conclusion, though your foreshadowing suggests it won't be the "they lived happily ever after" ending.

  2. And the funny thing is - I keep reading posts warning of doing this - and it still doesn't stop me. I guess my mind just needs to make sense of, or make a story of, the information I have.

  3. It's hard not to "fill in the gaps." I wholeheartedly agree about getting the whole probate file, when possible. The inventories of their worldly goods I think are especially interesting!

  4. You're so right, Karen - I'm still in the process of looking at the inventories of goods and who bought them. So interesting!

  5. Great post, Greta! Congratulations on being the COG "featured post." Can't wait to read Part 2.