Friday, February 11, 2011

Chicago Court Records - William Butler missappropriates inheritance

Yesterday I blogged about William Moulton Butler, Jr. and my quest to determine his mother. His father, William Moulton Butler, Sr., was married twice. His first wife was Celia Temperance Bliss and his second was Eliza Johnston. Somewhere in between the two, my ancestor was born. My biggest hiccup in finding out his mother is knowing when Celia passed away. I have been able to find no record of her death except for a random entry in a family history that states she died "about" 1866. Writing about this lack of information yesterday has drawn me to try yet again to find out her death date.

A year or so ago I received a newspaper article about the Butler clan through a random genealogical act of kindness. The article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on July 31, 1874 and covers the court cases from the previous week. One of the cases was a chancery suit between Willimena and Celia Butler and their father, William Moulton Butler, Sr. As best I can figure out, a chancery suit is basically one to determine equity and in this case, the equity of property. The girls (they were 18 and 13 at the time) appear to allege misappropriation of property and the rental income from said property by their father from the inheritance of their mother, Celia T. Bliss Butler. The court found in their favor and it appears that the girls were to receive what would amount to $1.8 million in today's money from their father. The article only states the judge's decision and does not give any details in the case. Without any other information on Celia I figure this court case may be my next straw. At the very least, since it talks about Celia's inheritance, court files may mention her death.

I know that the suit took place in Cook County, Illinois so I went to the Cook County Circuit Court's website. I looked for information on archives, and found a link for requesting a search of their archives. They provide a form to fill out and require a $9 fee in advance for the search. Because I had a newspaper article on the suit, I had quite a bit of information on the case which made filling the form out fairly easy. I am mailing my request today with a copy of the newspaper article. The website states that chancery suit files may include the following: cause of action (complaint), defendant's response, motions and briefs filed; testimony (occasional): verdict (if jury trial); judge's final order. If the case was appealed, a transcript may be present. Any of those items may help in my search. It would also be wonderful to figure out exactly what William Butler did to estrange his daughters. They were both living with a guardian following the suit. It also seems clear that since his son, William, was not involved in the suit, that Celia was not his mother. If she were he would have a vested interest in any money misspent. I can't wait to see how this boils out.

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