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Adjustment Day in Illinois

Reader Jeff Ford ran into a snag with Illinois court records:

I just found a probate document for a relative that died unexpectedly and without leaving a last will and testament. A brother petitioned the court to be appointed administrator of his late brother’s estate. Two other brothers were acting as sureties. The court action was dated 15 Dec 1917. My question concerns the last sentence of the document. It reads as follows; “The court doth further order that the adjustment day in said estate be and it is hereby fixed for the first Monday in February 1918.” Might there be another court document on that first Monday of February 1918?

The short answer: you betcha, and then some.

Order of Administration, 1917

Let’s start by figuring out just what that sentence means.

This particular Order of Administration was issued by the Probate Court of Kankakee County, Illinois — roughly 65 miles south of Chicago. Under Illinois law, starting at least as far back as 1845, each county in Illinois was required to have a court of probate, with wide authority to oversee estates.1

The probate judges — elected as probate justices of the peace — had all the powers of regular justices of the peace plus a great deal more.

They were the ones who ordered that wills be accepted for probate. They held necessary hearings, administered oaths and affirmations, and took and certified acknowledgments and proofs of deeds as required.

They checked up on executors and guardians, saw to it that widows got their portions as provided by law, reviewed the inventories, approved the sales. And… as here … they were the ones who appointed administrators when the decedent left no will.

That 1845 law also provided that:

It shall be the duty of each and every administrator or executor, to fix on a certain term of the court of probate, … for the settling and adjusting all claims against such decedent, and give notice thereof in some public newspaper within this State as required by law : and also, by putting up a written or printed notice on the door of the court house, and in five other of the most public places in the county, notifying and requesting all persons having claims against said estate, to attend at said term of the probate court, for the purpose of having the same adjusted …2

The law was modified in 1859 (fixing the time within which the executor or administrator had to act) and again in 1877 (requiring three weeks’ worth of newspaper notices), but when this order was issued late in 1917, the law was still pretty much as it had been in 1845. What had come to be known as an adjustment day had to occur within six months after an executor or administrator was appointed so that the process of settling an estate could begin.3

Once a claim was submitted on the adjustment day, if nobody objected to the claim, then the court could allow it without holding a hearing. If there was any objection at all, then a hearing was required. Either side could produce evidence and either side could ask for trial by jury.4

So what Jeff’s relative’s administrator had done, and what the court was agreeing to by adding this sentence in this order, was set the wheels in motion to tell anybody who claimed the estate owed him money that he had to bring proof of that claim to the Probate Court on “the first Monday in February 1918.”

Now that we all understand what was happening here, we can go on to the big question: are there more records? And oh boy is Jeff a lucky man. The answer is not only yes, but the court orders themselves are online, as digital images, in the “Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970” database at FamilySearch.

Like many county-level records that aren’t yet indexed by name at FamilySearch, this database consists of browseable images. To use a set of unindexed records, always click on the first link to browse the images and see what the general organization is. Some images — birth and death certificates for example — are in certificate-number order. Others, like these court records, are initially divided by county. In this case, Kankakee County is one of the choices, and clicking on the link for the county takes us to the list of records included in the collection — here, volumes of probate records in bound book form.

Always look in the beginning of any book-type volume for the possibility of a name index. If there isn’t one there, look at the end of the volume. And if there isn’t one there either, look for a separate volume that has only an index. Here, in the Kankakee County Probate Records, each volume in the time period of this estate has an alphabetical index at the beginning. The McCormack estate is indexed under “Mc” — here, as frequently happens, a separate page from the “M” entries.

Following the index entries through the records, it turns out that the order Jeff has is the order that began the estate process. It appointed Arthur A. McCormack as administrator of the Estate of Frank J. McCormack, deceased, set the bond for the administrator and approved the bondsmen, accepted the initial inventory of the estate and recorded the “on or about” date of death of 9 December 1917 — not even a week before this order.5 That was followed by:

     • An order dated 8 January 1918, recording the Probate Judge’s finding that Frank’s heirs were four brothers, two sisters, three nephews and three nieces — all identified by name.6

     • The filing of proof by the administrator that he’d properly published and posted the notice of the adjustment day.7

     • An order dated 9 March 1918 allowing a claim by Dick & Hertz for $277, and holding two claims for a later hearing.8

     • An order dated 15 March 1918 allowing the claim of W. W. Huckins for $36.20.9

     • An order dated 22 April 1918 allowing the claim of E. S. Hamilton in the amount of $70.00.10

     • An order dated 9 May 1919 allowing the claim of Dr. Fred C. Hamilton in the amount of $33.50.11

     • An order dated 23 May 1919 allowing the claim of George W. Breese in the amount of $24.00.12

     • An order dated 15 August 1919 allowing the claim of Henry Baldion in the amount of $100.00.13

     • And an order dated 14 February 1920 approving the final settlement by the administrator and closing the estate.14

This is all great stuff. But don’t stop there.

Just because that much is online doesn’t mean there isn’t more out there that isn’t online. All that’s available here are the court orders. None of the supporting documents — the proof of heirship mentioned in the court order, the claim papers, the estate inventory, the final account of the administrator — none of those is included in the online records.

Sure, it’s possible that the underlying papers don’t exist anymore… but I for one would never assume they don’t without a trip to the Kankakee County Courthouse.

There’s a wealth of information just in these court orders… but so much more that might be in the case files or loose papers that wouldn’t have been microfilmed.

And remember: the adjustment day notice had to be published in the newspaper, in the county if there was one and nearby if not. So look for those notices — those tidbits to add to the family history, too.

Let us know what you find, Jeff!


 
SOURCES

  1. See generally Chapter 85, Probate Court, §§ 1-21, in Mason Brayman, editor, Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois, … 1845 (Springfield : Walters & Weber, public printer, 1845), 426-429; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 10 Jul 2012).
  2. Chapter 109, Wills, § 95, in ibid., 556.
  3. Notice — Adjudication, Chap. 3, § 60, Revised Statutes of 1874, in Walter C. Jones and Keene H. Addington, editors, Annotated Statutes of the State of Illinois, in Force January 1, 1913, 6 vol. (Chicago : Callahan & Co., 1913), 1: 365; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 10 Jul 2012).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Kankakee County, Illinois, Probate Record 36: 97, Order of Administration, Estate of Frank J. McCormack, deceased, 15 Dec 1917, County Court, Kankakee, Illinois; “Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970,” database and digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: accessed 10 Jul 2012).
  6. Ibid., Proof of Heirship – Judge’s Certificate – Findings, 8 Jan 1918, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 36: 125-126.
  7. Ibid., Adjustment Day Proof, 6 Feb 1918, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 36: 177.
  8. Ibid., Claims Allowed, 9 Mar 1918, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 36: 237.
  9. Ibid., Hearing on Claim, 15 Mar 1918, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 36: 252.
  10. Ibid., Claim Allowed, 22 Apr 1918, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 36: 318.
  11. Ibid., Claim Allowed, 9 May 1919, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 37: 329.
  12. Ibid., Claim Allowed, 23 May 1919, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 37: 359.
  13. Ibid., Judgment, 15 Aug 1919, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 37: 504.
  14. Ibid., Order of Final Settlement – Estate Closed, 14 Feb 1920, Kankakee Co. Probate Record 38: 265-266.
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