A Closer Look at a Probate Record

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Cover of Probate Record for Experience Fuller, Hancock Co, IL.

Probate documents are created by a court after an individual’s death. They relate to the distribution of the deceased’s estate and often contain information of great genealogical value.  One of the records created at probate is often a list of creditors and accounts of debts owed. At first glance these may not seem of as much value as a will for example.  However, a closer look at the debts incurred by Experience Case Fuller and her husband Lucius Hubbard Fuller allow us to create a more in-depth picture of the last year or so of their lives.

Experience Case Fuller was 39 years old when she died in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois in 1846.  She had lost her husband, Lucius Hubbard Fuller in April 1845 and had been left a widow with 4 children still at home. Her probate record contains 18 pages, consisting mostly of accounts and administration paperwork. Together with Lucius Hubbard Fuller’s probate records we are able to put together a timeline of the family from 1844 to Experience’s death in 1846.

One of the first creditors owed money by Lucius and Experience Fuller is a Dr. Jonathan Berry.  In September 1844 the account states that Experience was sick and had been treated with quinine.

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Hancock County, Illinois probate records, ca. 1831-1942;  Author:  Hancock County (Illinois).  Illinois, Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999 http://www.Ancestry.com, citing Lucius Hubbard Fuller

Quinine was used to treat malaria, so rife in the swampy land of Warsaw, IL.  Malaria is the probable diagnosis although the actual cause of death is not given in the probate record.  Malaria was the most common cause of death in this time period in Illinois.

In the probate records of Experience Case Fuller we see continued doctor visits, this time for Lucius Hubbard Fuller.  The last entry is on 27 April 1845, the day Lucius died.

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A few pages later there is another account for visits to treat Experience, a daughter and a child.  The first account is dated two days after Lucius died.  It would appear that many in the family were sick in 1845 including Experience.  The accounts show the doctor continued to care for Experience and one of the children in August.

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Hancock County, Illinois probate records, ca. 1831-1942;  Author:  Hancock County (Illinois). Illinois, Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999;  http://www.Ancestry.com, citing Experience Case Fuller.

The final account payable tells the story of the last few months of Experience’s life.  On Christmas Day 1845 Experience is bled by the doctor and attended to for a few more days.  Nothing is noted until March 2, 1846 where the Doctor’s account states that she was attended to in her ‘last illness’.  Experience was 39 years old.  Her youngest child Josephus was 2 years old.  The account in the probate record indicates that Josephus and older brother Lucius were also sick and the doctor continued to attend to them until November 1846.

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In thoroughly exploring a probate record we can discover information that may not be found anywhere else.  In this case, that the Fuller family experienced sickness, most likely malaria, which undoubtedly contributed to the deaths of Lucius Hubbard Fuller at age 43 and his wife Experience Case Fuller at age 39.    Not only do we have an idea of the cause of death based on the accounts in the probate record but we can see history reflected in the individual lives of our ancestors: “Epidemics of cholera, malaria and typhoid took their toll on the struggling Mormons until the swamp was drained” Brooks, Juanita (1962), John Doyle Lee, Zealot, Pioneer, Builder, Scapegoat, Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark Co.

Lucius Hubbard Fuller and Experience Case Fuller are my husband’s fourth great grandparents.  Their eldest daughter, Lisania Fuller married Hyrum Judd in 1844 and set off across the plains in 1849, reaching the Salt Lake Valley between 22 – 24 September 1849.

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