Several months ago, I reported on the Will of Robert G. Stephens and the objection to granting of testamentary letters to his son, John J. Stephens, and son-in-law, William J. Ray, filed by daughter Hulda and husband James Alexander Chapman Ruffne…
Several months ago, I reported on the Will of Robert G. Stephens and the objection to granting of testamentary letters to his son, John J. Stephens, and son-in-law, William J. Ray, filed by daughter Hulda and husband James Alexander Chapman Ruffner, Sr. Hulda and James alleged that Robert lacked testamentary capacity and signed his will under influence and duress. And it was clear from the will’s terms that Robert was trying to keep Hulda’s inheritance out of her husband’s hands. You can review that post here. I shared a research plan to uncover more of the back story of the family wrangling, one element of which was looking at Indiana County (PA) land records. And, thanks to the Family History Library’s microfilm rental program, I was able to begin that work this week.
Indiana County Will Books document that Hulda and James filed a caveat asking for a court’s investigation on February 8, 1881, then withdrew it on August 20, 1881. On the same day – August 20, 1881 – Hulda alone purchased property in West Indiana Township, Indiana County from John W. Sutton, “bounded and described as follows, On the north by Church Street on the east by an Alley on the South by an Alley and on the West by Lot of Robert Smith, Being Sixty feet in front and Extending back One hundred and forty-five feet more or less.” (1) The terms are similar to the language of her father’s will; she was granted the property for her life, after which it would pass directly to her children.
“…to have and to hold the said Lot of ground during the life of the said Hulda Ruffner and at her death to descend from her to her Children as her heirs forever. Instead and in place of the legacy as given the presenter and her children by the last Will and Testament of Robert G. Stephens dec’d about which there has been a controversy which is settled by the Investment of the said Legacy in the purchase of the said Lot of ground hereby conveyed…”
The consideration clause of the deed makes it clear that the purchase price of $1,200 was provided by John J. Stephens and William J. Ray. In addition, on the same day, Hulda and James signed a quitclaim deed giving up any right to real estate previously conveyed by her father to her sister Amanda and husband, William J. Ray, in exchange for $400. (3) In other words, Robert’s executors paid $1,600 to quash the caveat – $400 in cash to James and Hulda and $1,200 in real property to Hulda alone, an increase of $600 over what was granted her by the will.
Interesting. But even more interesting is this — the property that Hulda purchased in 1881 with the caveat pay-off money had been acquired by James and Hulda in 1874. (4) It was seized by the county sheriff, H. C. Brown in 1878, and sold to John W. Sutton for $105 to partially satisfy a $1,090 debt judgment (plus $37.92 court costs) secured against James on May 1, 1878 by the previous owner. (5) I haven’t yet examined the deed by which James and Hulda acquired the property in 1874, but on its face, it looks as if James defaulted on the purchase price.
Little wonder now that Hulda’s family did not trust James – he had lost title to the family home and still owed more on the debt. (6) A few weeks after the Sheriff’s sale to Sutton, James and Hulda deeded the rest of their property interest to Sutton for $400 – more cash for them, and for him, a clearer title. (7) As was legally required, Hulda was questioned out of the presence of her husband to establish that she was not pressured into conveying her interest, but one does wonder. Pretty good return on investment for Sutton; he acquired the property for a total of $505 and sold it back to Hulda three years later for $1,200. That wasn’t the only Sheriff’s sale to Sutton; he seemed to make a habit of attending public auctions with cash in hand.
By the time the title of the family home was restored to Hulda in 1881, the couple already had five children; the youngest was our grandfather, James, Jr. (8) They relocated in the late 1890s to Westmoreland County (PA) – by that time, they had twelve children. (9)
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I predict there will be more records telling more stories about this crowd.
Here’s the only visual I have for this story – my dining room wall! I’ve hung James and Hulda as far apart as possible (in accordance with later life events.) He’s in the upper left and she’s on the lower right.
(1) Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Deed Book B-43: 403, John W. Sutton to Hulda Ruffner, 20 August 1881; FHL microfilm 1319650.
(3) Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Deed Book B-43: 404, J. A. C. and Hulda Ruffner to William J. and Amanda Ray, 20 August 1881; FHL microfilm 1319650.
(4) Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Deed Book B-39: 176, Estate of Sarah Works to J. A. C. Ruffner, 22 December 1874; FHL microfilm 1319646.
(5) Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Deed Book B-41: 620, H. C. Brown to John W. Sutton, 7 June 1878; FHL microfilm 1319649.
(6) The 1880 Federal Census show the family living on Church Street; it looks as though they remained in residence even though they lost title. 1880 U. S. Census, Indiana County, Pennsylvania, pop. sched., West Indiana, enumeration district (ED) 127, p. 23-B, dwelling 53, family 53, J. A. C. Ruffner; digital images, Ancestry.com
: accessed 10 September 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1135.
(7) Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Deed Book B-41: 620, J. A. C. and Hulda Ruffner to John W. Sutton, 29 June 1878; FHL microfilm 1319649.
(8) 1880 U. S. Census, Indiana Co. Pa., pop. sched., West Indiana, ED 100, p. 23-B, dwell. 53, fam. 53, J. A. C. Ruffner. Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate no. 40219, James Alexander Chapman Ruffner, Jr. (1951); Division of Vital Records, New Castle.
(9) 1900 U. S. Census, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, pop. sched., Greensburg Ward 3, enumeration district (ED) 100, p. 4-B, dwelling 84, family 91, J. A. C. Ruffner; digital images, Ancestry.com
: accessed 10 September 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1497.