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Probate Records: Episode 211 <<

Bruce's Story: Robert's Legacy

Bruce Going through musty old books in the courthouse, running microfilm through the reader, walking through cemeteries, and taking photos are all Bruce's idea of a good time. Each year, he and his wife Mary Kay devote some time to traveling in their RV to places where their ancestors lived.

One of these trips found them in the old Fulton County Courthouse in New York. Each time they stumbled on the surname they were researching, they were sent off in another direction. Soon the table was full of references of books, census and cemetery records, and other documents. They went through each one and transferred all the information into their files and made copies. Then they went back in the RV and reviewed their work in dismay. All of this information, but no real connection to the family.

After dinner, a deep discussion ensued. They had set aside two weeks for this search in New York, but a good part of the allotted time had elapsed with no results. What was going wrong? Then they remembered who they were looking for - the ancestor who had come from Scotland in 1787. Instead of using a shotgun approach and finding many slivers of information about all sorts of people, perhaps a rifle aimed directly at the one central name would work better. The key was to find him: Robert Stewart.

RV BUS The next day they traveled to the new Fulton County Court House and headed directly to the Probate Court Office. In fairly short order, they found Robert's will in the index. After being sent to the basement to dusty, but carefully labeled, file cabinets, Bruce came up triumphant, clutching several envelopes filled with documents. He was practically jumping around with impatience as he waited for them to be copied. When he had the precious copies, he took them back to the RV and looked through them over lunch. Comparing the will with the earlier research, it was clear that he had the right man.

The will revealed not only the structure of the family, but also of, the personality of the man himself. Bruce was touched that his ancestor had taken pains to provide for even the smallest needs of his wife, Jane after his death:
" . . . my said son, William, provide a horse and waggon for his said mother to carry her to meeting and to any other place where she desires to go . . . as much firewood as she shall need, to be brought to her chopped and left at the door, ready for her use"

By today's standards, these kind of "privileges" might seem rather minor. But in the early 1800s, they reflected a man who deeply loved the wife who had borne him 12 children and had left all that was familiar to her to venture to the New World with him.

From other details in the will, they were able to find the location of Robert Stewart's old homestead. Even today, it is still known as the Stewart Farm, though now owned by another family. As Bruce stood there looking at the remaining foundation and the old road overgrown with trees, he knew that this was where Robert and Jane's American legacy was launched. He savored the view with a palpitating heart, and then taped it so that others in the family could experience the same sensation. Their research effort had been tremendously successful. Bruce had met his great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Stewart.
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