Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Records in Unpredictable Places

One more thing probate records do: make unexpected connections between unexpected places in unexpected ways.

The largest county in the Midwest -- Cook County, Illinois -- is also a burned county. While abstracting probates three counties away in Indiana, I came across three pages copied from pre-Fire Cook County probate court records from the 1840s. The originals turned to ash in the Great Chicago Fire 141 years ago.

These records connect two early Midwestern movers and shakers. Micajah Terrell Williams -- an Ohio politician-entrepreneur with an interest in improved transportation and a founder of Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- had died in Cincinnati. William B. Ogden, Chicago's first mayor and a transportation leader cut from much the same cloth, was making a claim on Williams's estate. Following Williams's death, Ogden had been involved with land Williams had owned in (among other places) La Porte and Porter Counties in Indiana. Williams's probate appears to have been a tangled and lengthy affair, and there may be more to the story.

Only because a wealthy Cincinnatian invested in some Indiana farmland did a bit of long-gone Chicago history survive the fire in this courthouse 60 miles away. This piece of history will be a lot easier to find once we get these probates abstracted and indexed!


Micajah T. Williams estate no. 336, loose papers, La Porte County, Indiana; microfilm E-1, County Clerk, La Porte.

Harold Henderson, "Records in Unpredictable Places," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 October 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Mark Stickle said...

Williams was a fascinating man, and his career personified the very best of the 'improving spirit' that transformed the Old Northwest in the antebellum years. He spearheaded the campaign to win support for the construction of 2 cross-state canals in Ohio in the late 1820s, and then coordinated their construction and financing. Later, he was president of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company, an institution that channeled the funds of eastern investors to Ohio farmers eager to take advantage of new commercial opportunities opened to them by the canals. And he was a major bank investor and an early railroad investor .... all while participating actively in land speculation and town lot 'projections' throughout the Great Lakes states. His papers are at OHS in Columbus (and my dissertation deals with the mortgage lending activities of the Trust Company).