Don’t Assume!

I’m one of those stubborn ones. I don’t truly learn a lessons until the third or fourth time I make an error. That said, I STILL haven’t taken to heart Don’t Assume! – and I’ve lost count of the opportunities the universe has afforded me to so do.

Until now, perhaps. This time, I let the evidence guide me, rather than the opposite. Really!

Joseph Wait is a 6th Great Uncle on a paternal line back through the Greenwich Husteds and the Dartmouth Giffords (where he actually crosses a maternal line). He’s related to Frederic Remington (The Snooty Art-Aficinado Post) on his Sackrider mother’s side, and Commodore Perry. He lived from 1778 to 1845, all in the S.E. quadrant of imgresSaratoga County, New York – a cluster of villages and lakes and hills I’ve actually seen, it being something of a Ground Zero for Dad’s people. Important – but sadly, not productive. Like all of New York State (aka, Genealogy’s Black Hole), no one required filing of births and deaths and other vital events until relatively recently. So, vital or not, records mostly don’t exist.

That fact made Ancestry.com’s release last year of millions of newly indexed wills and estate papers the best thing to happen on the site in ages. (Right up there with that day when the service was reliable and uninterrupted.) Because, as it happens, Joseph Wait, left a will. DUDE LEFT A WILL!! Signed and witnessed to a fare-thee-well. The document itself didn’t answer all the questions, but it kicked the door open for an hour or two of focused and productive research.

(Funny. When you know who to look for, and where to look for them, folks get found. I find. There’s probably a lesson in there, but please. One at a time.)

So – from the actual court record:

… Oliver H. Wait, one of the executors named in a certain instrument dated October 30, 1845 purporting to be the last Will and Testament of Joseph Wait deceased relating to both real and personal estate, appeared and offered said instrument for probate and made satisfactory proof by affidavit which is now on file … that the said Joseph Wait died on the 5th day of November 1845, that at the time of his death and for several years previous thereto he was an inhabitant of the town of Clifton Park in said County; that he left a widow, to wit, Lydia Wait, who resides in the town of Halfmoon; that he left four sons, to wit: William Wait, George Wait, Oliver H. Wait, the above named executor, who reside in said town of Clifton Park, and David Wait, who resides in Halfmoon, and two daughters, Alba, the wife of Lucas Smith, who resides in Halfmoon, and Hannah, wife of Alonzo Gatefield, who resides at Catskill, Greene County, his only heirs and next of kin.

Aha! Lydia is named as the legal widow in the document describing presentation of Joseph Wait’s will for probate… I could stop right here, and stick her in as mother to all of the kids after Alba, couldn’t I?  It would be so easy!   Not so fast, Usain!

The next bit in the file concerns the son George, who has not yet reached his majority, and has no legal guardian. So they appoint one. (Seems odd, when he has Lydia… but as it specifically said in that transcribed paragraph, Lydia does not live in the same town as George… or William or Oliver. It’s near, but not the same town.)  Huh.

Moving on… the next document in the file is the testimony of the witnesses of the original will, Dr. Higgins and Mr. Finch – and some straaaange stuff came out in their respective cross-examinations. There were concerns about Joseph’s condition, since he had suffered some sort of mild stroke (“paralytic shock”) and was slightly diminished in abilities, if not faculties. From Dr. Higgins:

I was told by [son] George that [Joseph] wanted a deed drawn and to take back a life lease. I don’t know that George told me what lands he wanted to deed, none of the sons told me how to draw the will, nor did the old lady who lives with them.

Old Lady?  No wait – there’s more. Keep on course. From Mr. Finch’s testimony:

Dr Higgins asked him if he and myself should witness the will and he said yes distinctly. We could understand him. I don’t know who first spoke of drawing the will. I told [son] Mr. William Wait that [Joseph] was in a very dangerous situation, and if he had any writing to do he had better attend to it that day.

Next in the file comes the actual will (a handwritten, sworn true copy, anyway). Joseph gives his late father’s land to his sons William and David, another plot to son Oliver, and yet another – Joseph’s current home/farm – to George, WITH a proviso:

That he enter into a covenant with his mother, the woman with whom I now live, with sufficient security to keep and maintain her in a comfortable manner during her natural life either at his house or provide otherwise for her support as would be reasonably required. To Polly, the woman with whom I live, I give and bequeath one feather Bed, [blah-blah, and so on…].

This is getting fun. DANGER! OLD WOMEN! PROVISI!

At the time Joseph suffered his stroke he had no will and had made no arrangements for his property. Lydia was still his wife, in the eyes of the law, though he had two sons in their young-20s with the now old yet still-dubious Polly.

But reality busts in! (I’m on a total Lemony Snicket roll right now.) Lydia, his legal wife and legal widow-to-be, would control everything if Joseph didn’t make with the ink-and-quill action. Pronto! Lydia might be just fine with doling out property for the benefit of her children – and likely even Alba, Joseph’s first wife’s daughter, whom Lydia raised. But she might not be inclined to show much charity to her husband’s other family. Much less That Woman. Hence the advice from Mr. Finch.

So yes, for some reason, Joseph left Lydia – or maybe she left him – and he took up with Polly. Or the taking-up necessitated the leaving(s). Whatever. Several sources confirm the details. The will confirms that George is Polly’s son, and a handful of other sources suggest that son Oliver is Polly’s as well.

To quote the oft-quoted but never equalled Fats Waller: One never knows, do one?

Pre-Publication Postscript #1: To the Bozeman relatives. Yes, he’s one of us. Related to Elisha’s wife. AND Clifton Park is where Grandma Jessie taught in the village school – long before she joined the All-Nurse Band.

Pre-Publication Postscript #2: Several sources give Polly’s maiden name as Way. I can’t guarantee that – but it suggests, at least, a scenario in which Lydia’s sister Polly stole her husband. Seriously, this is better than “Dynasty”!

Pre-Publication Postscript #3: There is one even more disturbing piece to this – i.e., the very real chance that I’m actually related to a former friend of mine, friend of my sister’s, friend of countless friends. I’d ask him, but it’s not worth it. He’d say yes – and then tell me that we descend from Cleopatra, Millard Fillmore, and (for the umpteenth time) those Wait(e)s who invented classy tarot cards. 

 

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