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Even judges get it: the same name does not mean the same man.

On 16 November 1930, Henrietta E. Garrett died in Pennsylvania.1 She left no will saying who should get that part of her estate that wasn’t specifically left to named beneficiaries (called the “residuary estate”2 or, simply, the “residue”3). In most cases, for most people, this wouldn’t excite a whole lot of interest; anybody who wants to fight over my prize collection of 5.25-inch floppy disks is welcome to ’em. But Henrietta’s residuary estate was a tad bit larger than mine will be… it amounted to something in the neighborhood of $17 million.4 In 1930. Not exactly chump change.

A few people from hither and yon came forward and claimed to be related to Henrietta closely enough to share in her bounty. A mere 25,000+ claims were filed, requiring more than 2,000 hearings with more than 1,000 witnesses testifying. The transcript of the hearings with the exhibits took up 390 volumes.5

In the end, it was determined that Henrietta was survived by three first cousins: Herman Adolph Kretschmar; Howard Sigismund Kretschmar; and Johann Peter Christian Schaefer I. They and they alone would share her estate.6

But wait!

Anna Gadle, a claimant who said she was Henrietta’s first cousin once removed on her father’s side and a second cousin on her mother’s side, wasn’t about to give up without a fight. She appealed. The case went all the way from the Philadelphia Orphan’s Court to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. There, in 1952, the Court reviewed Anna’s evidence, including church records and statements by Anna’s father about his link to Henrietta’s father, Christian Schaeffer.7

The Court began by explaining that a person’s pedigree, or descent, could be proved by many types of records, including “church records, birth certificates, baptismal certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, family Bibles, ancient documents, tombstones or monuments on graves with inscriptions thereon, and declarations of members of the family.”8 (Sound familiar? Like the records we all use in trying to satisfy the Genealogical Proof Standard,9 maybe?)

But, the Court immediately cautioned: “Identity of names, religion and place of nativity are competent evidence to prove kinship or pedigree, but alone and of themselves, are insufficient to establish a finding of kinship.”10

And, the Court found, there was one hurdle facing Anna that her proofs just couldn’t surmount: all of her evidence proved only that she was related to a Christian Schaeffer, and not to the Christian Schaeffer: “unfortunately for claimant, there is no evidence that her great-uncle Christian Schaeffer was the same Christian Schaeffer who was the father of the decedent.”11

Undaunted, Anna pressed on, asking the United States Supreme Court to intervene. Wisely, it chose not to.12 Judges, even Justices, know what genealogists know: the same name does not mean the same man.


SOURCES

  1. In re Garrett’s Estate, 371 Pa. 284, 286, cert. denied 344 U.S. 860 (1952).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1032, “residuary estate.”
  3. Ibid., “residue.”
  4. In re Garrett’s Estate, 371 Pa. at 286.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 371 Pa. at 287.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Board for Certification of Genealogists, “The Genealogical Proof Standard” (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : accessed 3 Jan 2012).
  10. In re Garrett’s Estate, 371 Pa. at 287-288.
  11. Ibid., 371 Pa. at 289.
  12. In re Garrett, 344 U.S. 860 (1952).
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