Sunday, September 27, 2009
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I have just returned from my sister's house in northern California. She just moved into an old home in August. The listing agent stated the house was built in 1910. At first, I thought it would be as easy as looking at the census records for 1910-1930. However, only the 1910 and 1930 census listed street names, but even then, there were no street addresses. Therefore, our goal while I was there was to go to the county courthouse and determine who was the first owner of the house.
Like any good genealogist (though my sister is not really a genealogist), she talked to people in the town right after she moved in. The mayor of the town told her that the home was known as the Forsythe home for the longest time, but she thought that the home was originally built for a man named Moore Stovall and his family. She also noticed that the initials M.E.S. were on the sidewalk outside the home. I found a Mary E. Stovall in the census records from 1900-1930 in the town. I did not find a Moore Stovall in census records, but I did find a biography online for a Jessie Curl Stovall, who married Mary Eliza Moore. The Mary E. Stovall in the census records was married to J.C. Stovall. So at least we had some leads before going to the courthouse.
At the courthouse, we went to the tax assessor's office, who gave us a printout of all people on record for owning the house. The farthest back the tax record went was Feb 1976, when the house was transferred to the estate of Lillian M. Forsythe. The tax record listed the location of the deed for the transfer, so we then went to the County Recorder/Clerk's office to find the deed. We found a deed which transferred the house from the estate of John Albert Forsythe, who died on 1 Mar 1963, leaving no heirs, to the estate of Lillian Margaret Forsythe, who died on 15 Jan 1970. Lillian Margaret was listed as John Albert's mother in the deed.
Going backward, we found that in Sep 1956, J.H. Forsythe and Lillian Margaret Forsythe had transferred the house to their son, John Albert Forsythe, with a right to live in the house for the remainder of their lives. J.H. Forsythe died three years later in 1959. Since John Albert died in 1963 with no heirs, and Lillian did not die until 1970, this is why the house reverted back to her estate in 1976. I'm assuming they deeded the house to their son, assuming he would outlive them.
We then became stuck and could not find when and from whom J.H. Forsythe and Lillian Margaret Forsythe had purchased the property in the first place. We had made a very common genealogical mistake: we did not realize at first that J.H. Forsythe was the same person as John Homer Forsythe. We then went back and found a deed from March 1976, which stated that the Dept of Veterans' Affairs of the State of California had sold the house to John Homer Forsythe in Oct 1951, and this deed was being recorded in 1976 to replace the destroyed or unrecorded deed from 1951. Aha!
We then found a memorandum (not an official deed) from April 1944, which stated that the VA Dept was selling the house to John Homer Forsythe. I'm not quite sure why one record stated 1951 and one stated 1944, but it can be safely said that he probably bought the house between 1944 and 1951.
We got stuck again at this point because we could not find when and from whom the VA Dept purchased the house. The VA Dept apparently purchased many homes in the county, and they had their own page in the grantee index. We could not find them purchasing any homes prior to 1946 in the index, however. But there was the memorandum from 1944, so this didn't make sense.
At this point, my sister decided to be a rogue genealogist and just start looking for Stovalls as grantors. I was hesitant because I was afraid that there could have been at least one other owner between the Stovalls and the VA Dept, so I was trying to come up with Plan B. And it was apparent from the index that the Stovalls owned LOTS of land. However, we got very lucky because she found that a Kathryn Stovall Mitchell had sold the house to the VA Dept in April 1944. We're still not sure why the grantee was not indexed in this sale.
In 1941, we found a deed in which Hiram Curl Stovall left the house to his wife, Kathryn Stovall, upon his death. Aha! Going back even further, we found a deed from 1930 in which Mary Eliza Stovall left the house to her son, Hiram, upon her death. Now I just think we have a little more research to do to find out if Mary Eliza Stovall was the original owner.
My sister said that she went to church today and found out that Dolores Forsythe, daughter of J.H. and Lillian Forsythe, committed suicide. Her tombstone says she died in 1951 at the age of 25. Her brother, John Albert, also died young. We're curious whether or not John Albert also committed suicide, or if it's even true that Dolores committed suicide. Time to order some death records!