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His and hers? Or…?

If The Legal Genealogist says she’s going to be speaking this weekend at the 2016 Conference of the Montana Genealogical Society, you’d already know what was coming, right?

Yep.

Poking around in the statute books last night.

But the story that emerged didn’t really come from the statute books themselves. It came from another set of records that might not exist but for the statute books.

MontanaYou see, when Montana became a state in 1889,1 one of the first acts its legislature finally succeeded in passing was a tax measure.2

This act was passed by the second session of the State Legislature — the first session hadn’t managed to achieve anything because of total gridlock3 — and became law in March of 1891.4

And what this very first law did, was provide that — with specified exceptions — “All property in the State is subject to taxation.”5 The exemptions were for “property of the United States, the State, counties, cities, towns, school districts, municipal corporations, public libraries, and such other property as is used exclusively for agricultural and horticultural societies, for educational purposes, places for actual religious worship, hospitals and places of burial not used or held for private or corporate profit, and institutions of purely public charity…”6

From a genealogical perspective, the best part of the statute is the requirement that the tax assessor in each county “ascertain the names of all taxable inhabitants and all property in his county subject to taxation…”7 and keep an assessment book recording all the taxable properties.8

There were all kinds of major league penalties if the assessor didn’t keep the records and pay over the taxes collected, so what we end up with… records. Great records, many of which survive, and many of which are even available online in digital format.

Which brings us to the story.

Francis J. Adams of Great Falls, Montana, was the town doctor from the 1890s through to his death in an automobile accident in June 1920. He was born in California in 1859, the son of John and Georgiana (McDougall) Adams. His father, an Army officer, resigned at the outbreak of the Civil War to serve the Confederacy and died during the Battle of Franklin in November 1864.9

Adams the son was educated at Georgetown University, served as an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army in the 1880s and was a member of the Montana State Board of Medical Examiners.10 He died in a car accident in Great Falls in which he and several Catholic nuns from an orphanage had been pinned in the wreckage until they could be extricated.11

And it’s Adams the son who shows up in the Great Falls tax lists, which happen to be digitized and online at FamilySearch.12

But here’s the kicker.

We know that Adams married in 1891.13 You can see him and his wife Alice in the 1900 census,14 the 1910 census,15 and the 1920 census,16 just days before his death.

So… why, from the time of the marriage in the 1890s, is there property separately taxed to F. J. Adams … and Mrs. F. J. Adams? And she had the house and the barn?

They show up for the first time in the tax list of 1892. He had four unimproved lots valued at $4,200; she had the house and barn valued at $3,250. The taxes were paid on the same day and consecutively numbered receipts were issued.17

It’s the same for the three other years for which records are digitized and available online: he owned unimproved lots; she owned the house and barn.18

So what was the deal? Did she own that land before the marriage? There’s an index to record of separate property of married women, vol. 1, 1895-1914 — and she’s not in it. Adams’ will doesn’t give any clues — it just left everything to his wife, without distinguishing what he owned.19 The Cascade County deed books have been digitized… but the indexes haven’t.

Now you know there’s a story here. This was a prenuptial agreement, or a way to protect her in case he was sued, or it was property she owned and brought into the marriage.

And we might never have known even to look for the story if Montana hadn’t needed to raise money, and passed a law requiring taxes… and creating tax records.


SOURCES

  1. See “Statehood,” Montana Historical Society (https://mhs.mt.gov/ : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  2. “An Act Concerning Revenue,” in Laws, Resolutions, and Memorials of the State of Montana … 1891 (Helena, Mont. : Journal Publishing Co., 1891), 73, 129; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  3. See “Highlights from Legislative History,” About the Legislature, The Montana Legislature (http://leg.mt.gov/ : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  4. An Act Concerning Revenue, in Laws, Resolutions, and Memorials of the State of Montana … 1891 (Helena, Mont. : Journal Publishing Co., 1891), 73, 129; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  5. Ibid., §1, at 73.
  6. Ibid., §2.
  7. Ibid., §13, at 78.
  8. Ibid., §34, at 84.
  9. See Leslie R. Tucker, Brigadier General John Adams, CSA : A Biography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2014), 5, 202.
  10. See Builders of Our Nation, Men of 1913 (Chicago, Ill. : Men of Nineteen Thirteen, 1914), 35 (entry for Francis Joseph Adams); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  11. “Dr. Adams Talked to Sisters Calmly When He Was Nearly Dead,” Helena (Mont.) Daily Independent, 7 June 1920, p. 6, col. 3; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  12. “Montana, Cascade County, tax records, 1889-1936,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  13. See Choteau County, Montana, Marriage Marriage Book B: 170, License & Certificate, No. 99, Adams-Conrad, 28 Oct 1891; digital images, “Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  14. 1900 U.S. census, Cascade County, Montana, Great Falls, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 148, p. 155A (stamped), dwelling 533, family 563, Francis J. Adams household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 Sep 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 910.
  15. 1910 U.S. census, Cascade County, Montana, Great Falls, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 34, p. 140B (stamped), dwelling/family 153, Francis J. Adams household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed xx Month 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 830.
  16. 1920 U.S. census, Cascade County, Montana, Great Falls, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 14, p. 35B (stamped), dwelling 84, family 228, Francis J. Adams household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 Sep 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 968.
  17. Tax List, City of Great Falls, 1892, at 3; digital images, “Montana, Cascade County, tax records, 1889-1936,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
  18. Ibid., tax lists of 1893-1895.
  19. Cascade County, Montana, Probate Book 11: 27; digital images, “Cascade County Records, 1880-2009: probate records,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 18 Sep 2016).
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