Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rebecca Lair - The Rest of the Story??

I love a good story - and I enjoy it even more when it involves my ancestors. The best story, in my opinion, is something of a mystery, and the pieces are put together slowly, bit by bit. Such is the case with my gr-gr-gr-gr grandmother, Rebecca Lair, of Princeville, Illinois.

Chasing down our female ancestors is often difficult - they tended not to leave as much of a paper trail as their male counterparts. But Rebecca's husband, William Lair, left a sizable probate file that gave me some very intriguing glimpses into her life, but as is often the case, a whole new set of questions were raised.

William Lair and Rebecca DeBolt were married on 16 Jul 1828, in Licking County, Ohio; about 1849, they and their family moved to a farm in Akron township in Peoria County, Illinois.

Rebecca did not have an easy life; she was the mother of ten children, four of whom died as children or young adults. Her husband died in 1857, after an illness of one week, suddenly leaving her with a farm, five minor children, and a long string of IOUs. William owed small amounts of money to everyone - to his son, his brother, his nephew, and others for expenses to keep his farm going and other ventures; he and two other men had also signed promissory notes to the Akron school for their share in boarding the teacher, at 10% interest.

William died intestate. Rebecca was named executrix of her husband's estate, but for whatever reason, she declined, and turned to her brother, George DeBolt, for help.

DeBolt handled the administration of the estate, paying William's debts, but his own fees and commissions for acting as administrator were significant, and the estate was deemed insolvent. To have his fees paid, DeBolt petitioned the court to sell the widow's home, and sued all eight of her children, including the five minors. The family's home was sold to another of Rebecca's brothers, William DeBolt. I can only imagine how betrayed Rebeca felt. In the following years, she worked as a seamstress and "washer woman" to support herself and what was left of her family. Ironically, while she sewed beautiful garments and quilts for others, her own windows were covered with paper curtains.

Seventeen years elapsed before my next substantial piece of information about Rebecca's life. At the time of her death, she owned real estate and rental property in the village of Princeville, and had money to leave to her adult children in her will. She had lost nearly everything in 1857, and had built up an estate for herself by the time of her death in 1874. I would love to know what happened in those missing years. I would love to know more about the woman who was knocked down, but refused to stay there. There's a great story in those missing years, and little by little, I hope to piece it together.

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