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The exemption

There was, the widow carefully reported to the probate judge, no personal property at all left by her late husband.

Land, yes. The east one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 21, Township 3 South, Range 16 West, in Tillman County, Oklahoma, valued at $1700.1

InventoryBut when Jasper Robertson died in 1912, his widow Eula said, again and again, he left no personal property at all.

Now The Legal Genealogist would never want to speak ill of a widow trying to get by and support her four children after the untimely death of her husband.

And less in this case than in most: Jasper and Eula Robertson were my great grandparents.

But no personal property?

None at all?

Not a pipe or a watch or a cup or a mug or a knife or a fork or a pot?

Not a hoe or a rake or a plow?

This is a guy who owned 80 acres of land and, by 1908, had built a 14-by-32-foot house, a barn, and a chicken house, and had fenced in 40 acres, with 30 acres in cultivation.2

And yet he owned nothing?

How in the world could that be?

Easy answer, and the usual source for the answer.

It’s because of the law.

Oklahoma law, in this case, in a section of the law entitled Homestead and Exemption. And in the way homestead property was treated by the probate law.

First, Oklahoma law provided for certain types of “property reserved to heads of families” that would be “exempt from attachment of execution and every other species of forced sale for the payment of debts,” and that property included:

First. The homestead of the family, which shall consist of the home of the family, whether the title to the same shall be lodged in or owned by the husband or wife.
Second. All the household and kitchen furniture.
Third. Any lot or lots in a cemetery held for the purpose of sepulture.
Fourth. All implements of husbandry used upon the homestead.
Fifth. All tools, apparatus and books belonging to and used in any trade or profession.
Sixth. The family library and all family portraits and pictures and wearing apparel.
Seventh. Five milch cows and their calves under six months old.
Eighth. One yoke of work oxen with necessary yokes and chains.
Ninth. Two horses or two mules, and one wagon, cart or dray.
Tenth. One carriage or buggy.
Eleventh. One gun.
Twelfth. Ten hogs.
Thirteenth. Twenty head of sheep.
Fourteenth. All saddles, bridles and harness necessary for the use of the family.
Fifteenth. All provisions and forage on hand, or growing for home consumption, and for the use of exempt stock for one year.
Sixteenth. All current wages and earnings for personal or professional services earned within the last ninety days.3

On the death of any husband or wife, certain property was to be immediately delivered by the executor or administrator to the surviving spouse or children and was “not to be deemed assets,” including:

First. All family pictures.
Second. A pew or other sitting in any house of worship.
Third. A lot or lots in any burial ground.
Fourth. The family Bible and all school books used by the family, and all other books used as a part of the family library, not exceeding in value one hundred dollars.
Fifth. All wearing apparel and clothing of the decedent and his family.
Sixth. The provisions for the family necessary for one year’s supply, either provided or growing, or both ; and fuel necessary for one year.
Seventh. All household and kitchen furniture, including stoves, beds, bedsteads and bedding, not exceeding one hundred and fifty dollars in value.4

And, in addition, the surviving spouse and children were to be allowed “all such personal property or money as is exempt by law from levy and sale on execution or other final process from any court, to be, with the homestead, possessed and used by them.”5

So when Eula Robertson reported to the court that there was no personal property, what she meant was that there was no personal property that the creditors of the estate could get their hands on. The dishes, the beds, the kids’ clothes — she didn’t have to worry about those.

Which is how the estate of a farmer can have no personal property at all.


SOURCES

  1. Tillman County, Oklahoma, County Court, Estate of Jasper C. Robertson, File No. 134, General Inventory and Appraisement, filed 22 March 1913; digital images, “Oklahoma Probate Records, 1887-2008,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 4 Sep 2014).
  2. Homestead Proof–Testimony of Claimant, 29 August 1908, Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), cash sale entry, certificate no. 246, Lawton, Oklahoma, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management; Record Group 49, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  3. §3342, Chapter 34, Homestead and Exemptions, in Samuel Harris and Jean Day, compilers, Revised Laws of Oklahoma, 1910 (St. Paul, Minn. : Pioneer Co., 1912), I: 833; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 4 Sep 2014).
  4. Ibid., §6328, Chapter 64, “Procedure–Probate,” Article VI: Homestead and Family Allowance, II: 1735; digital images, HathiTrust (www.hathitrust.org : accessed 4 Sep 2014).
  5. Ibid., §6329, II: 1736.
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