Originally posted 13 September 2012
There is a certain magic and sense of mystery that keeps me addicted to genealogy. There is always a new riddle to solve, a curious phenomenon to encounter. Sometimes beneath the stack of dates and facts my ancestors seem more like an abstract idea than actual person who was very much alive and breathing at one point in one time. But, then there is at that moment. That breathless moment where my heartbeat and everything around me seems to stop, that moment when another voice seems to whisper, “Yes, they were really here.”
These breathless moments always catch me off guard. For one ancestor it may be a picture that causes this, for another a ship manifest, but more often than not it happens when I see their signature. The first time this happened for my five great grandparents Joseph Guillaume and Catherine Delaitre was earlier this summer when I saw their signatures on their marriage record. But every once in a while, I am lucky enough to experience that same breathless moment about one of my ancestors more than once.
There were many unexpected treasures in Joseph’s probate record. I had not expected to find tantalizing clues about the type of person Catherine was. Imagine my surprise when I realized that a woman who died a hundred years before I was born may have actually been a lot like me.
Catherine’s signature appears numerous times throughout the file, mostly on receipts from the year of her husband’s death in 1878 through 1885 when she died. My favorite of these is a receipt dated April 1882. A comparison of her signature from when she married in 1829 to this receipt shows that her handwriting had shaky and it appears writing may have become difficult for her. This in of itself is not surprising, but, it makes me wonder if the she perhaps suffered from some of the same ailments that affected my grandmother and great-grandmother. Then I noticed something else about her signature. Below the ‘G’ there is ‘Del.’ I do not think it would be an unreasonable deduction to make that she had started signing her maiden name Delaitre, caught her mistake and wrote her married name over the top.
There could be many reasons why Catherine had started writing her maiden name. Perhaps a bit of senility, perhaps just run of the mill absent mindedness (I still from time to time sign my last name as Rice not Nelson), or it could be something to do with French culture and traditions.
The next discovery I made was a letter written by the executor, August Cazalet, to his attorney A. Simpson which by itself contained some curious verbiage but this was accompanied by a very curious and eye-opening letter. This second curious letter is a copy August made for A. Simpson of a letter that Catherine sent him.
Perhaps I am making too much out of her letter, but, I am struck by how Catherine reiterated that these notes were in her possession. She used the exact phrase “my possession” in back to back to sentences. She seemed very adamant that they would remain in her possession. While she did not state her reasons for holding onto the original notes I cannot help but admire the spunk it took to disobey the executor of her husband’s estate at a time when women’s rights were severely limited. A high level of obstinacy is made apparent by the document that this letter was ultimately filed along with to the court- a request for a citation to be issued against Catherine. Two words things that I am often told are that a) I have a lot of spunk and b) I am extremely stubborn. Apparently these are family traits with deep roots.
Was it just good old fashion stubbornness that made Catherine hold onto those notes with all of her might? Was she worried she would not receive her share of the notes? Unfortunately, without an explanation documented all I have are clues. This was the first of several clashes between August Cazalet and Joseph Guillaume’s heirs over finances and the handling of the estate. Accusations went both ways over the course of 26 years. It leaves my cousins and I wondering if this was the start of a feud between the family’s descendants and that of a family with whom August Cazalet was banking partners with? More on that another day…..
Joseph Guilliaume estate, Christian County Probate File No. 1006, Christian County Circuit Clerk, Vandaila, Illinois.