The guardian of age

Property and Person

Esther Eliza (Farnum) Aldrich was 78 years old in the fall of 1920. She had outlived a husband and two of her six children, living her long life in the farm country of southern Vermont.

aldrichYou can track her through the census there in Londonderry, Windham County:

• She was a 27-year-old mother of one daughter in 1870, living with her husband David, a farmer.1

• By 1880, Esther was 37, David was still a farmer, and there were four living children in the household.2

• In 1900, David was still farming, and only one daughter, Hattie, was still living at home. It’s from that census that we find out about the children who didn’t survive — Esther was recorded as age 56, mother of six, four surviving.3

• In 1910, David was shown as still farming, but a son William was living with his parents and, perhaps, doing the bulk of the work. Esther was shown as 67, and again, mother of six, four surviving.4

• By 1920, David had died. Esther was a 77-year-old widow, living in the household of her daughter and son-in-law, Hattie and Noble Rawson, in Londonderry.5

And on the 17th of September 1920, she signed a remarkable document on the stationery of the Probate Court:

I Esther E. Aldrich of Londonderry … respectfully represent that I am a person of full age, but deem myself unfitted by reason of lack of education and by reason of mental and physical disability for the prudent management of my affairs.

Wherefore, I request the appointment of H.J. Twitchell of Londonderry … to be guardian of my property only, and not of my person, according to the provisions of the statute in such case made and provided.6

Okay… what’s that all about? After all, silly rabbit, guardians are for kids.7

Right?

Um… not always.

While it was historically true that “in common usage the name ‘guardian’ is applied only to one haying the care and management of a minor,”8 the word has always had a broader meaning, including anyone “lawfully invested with the power, and charged with the duty, of taking care of the person and managing the property and rights of another person, who, for some peculiarity of status, or defect of age, understanding, of self-control, is considered incapable of administering his own affairs” and any “person appointed to take care of the person or property of another.”9

The law in Vermont — then and now — allowed for the appointment of a guardian for someone who wasn’t competent to handle his or her own affairs. Older statutes spoke in terms of “a person mentally incapable of taking care of himself or his property.”10 Today’s statute is more in line with what Esther did here: it allows “any person who needs assistance with the management of his or her affairs (to) file a petition with Probate Court and request the appointment of a guardian.”11

Note that a guardian could be (and can be today) appointed for the person or the property. And when — as in Esther’s case — the guardian was appointed for the property only, physical custody of the person wasn’t affected at all.

So what this was intended to do was leave Esther living — comfortably and happily, we can hope — in the home of her daughter and son-in-law, while someone else took care of the day-to-day aspects of managing whatever she owned.

We know what that was by the inventory filed by the guardian: she had one bank deposit of $1207.84, a second bank deposit of $380.88, and a horse shed worth $10.12

And we know who the guardian was — a neighbor. Homer J. Twitchell had lived in the same neighborhood as Esther for more than 20 years by the time she asked to have him appointed.13

What we don’t know is exactly why this document was filed.

But the document does give us a hint. A hint in the form of the signature of the witness: Addie M. Gardner. Or, to be more precise, Addie M. (Aldrich) Gardner.14 Daughter of David and Esther (Farnum) Aldrich. The daughter Esther wasn’t living with at the time.

Now that doesn’t mean there had to have been a dispute between the sisters. It could just as easily have been that neither of them wanted the responsibility of taking care of their mother’s affairs and were happy to have an outsider do it — to spare them from having to answer to their mother. Perhaps the two agreed that Mom shouldn’t be giving her money to, say, one of their brothers. But it’s the kind of clue that warrants looking into.

And there’s one more clue as to why this document may have been created that’s not in the probate file. It’s a record created just a few months later. On 19 January 1921. When Esther died, of tuberculosis.15

It’s likely Esther, and her children, saw the end coming. And likely that the document reflects an effort to be as prepared for it as they could be in terms of Esther’s assets.

So no, silly rabbit, guardians are not just for kids. And Esther’s example reminds us to look at guardianship records in every case… not just where children are involved.


SOURCES

  1. 1870 U.S. census, Windham County, Vermont, Londonderry, population schedule, p. 39(B) (stamped), dwelling 188, family 180, Esther E. Aldrich; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Nov 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1627.
  2. 1880 U.S. census, Windham County, Vermont, Londonderry, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 231, p. 412(A) (stamped), dwelling 42, family 49, Esther E. Aldrich; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Nov 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1349.
  3. 1900 U.S. census, Windham County, Vermont, Londonderry, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 253, p. 134(A) (stamped), dwelling 142, family 157, Esther E. Aldrich; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Nov 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1695.
  4. 1910 U.S. census, Windham County, Vermont, Londonderry, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 253, p. 149(A) (stamped), dwelling 57, family 59, Ester Aldrich; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Nov 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1618.
  5. 1920 U.S. census, Windham County, Vermont, Londonderry, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 118, p. 141(A) (stamped), dwelling 187, family 214, Esther E. Aldrich, mother-in-law, in household of Nobel H. Rawson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Nov 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1876.
  6. Windham County, Vermont, Probate Court, Westminster District, Guardian File A-1, Esther E. Aldrich, application for guardian, 17 Sep 1920; Vermont Public Records Office, Midddlesex; digital images, “Vermont, Windham County, Westminster District, Probate Records, 1781-1921,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 26 Nov 2013).
  7. Okay, so you have to be of a certain age to get the reference. But you could look it up. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Trix (cereal),” rev. 25 Nov 2013.
  8. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 552, “guardian.”
  9. Ibid.
  10. See e.g. §3159, “For insane persons,” in The Public Statutes of Vermont, 1906: Including the Public Acts of 1906 (Concord, N.H. : State of Vermont, 1907), 639; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 26 Nov 2013).
  11. Purpose of Voluntary Guardianships,” Vermont Probate Division, State of Vermont Judiciary (https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/ : accessed 26 Nov 2013).
  12. Windham Co., Vt., Probate Court, Westminster District, Guardian File A-1, inventory of estate, 18 Oct 1920.
  13. See 1900 U.S. census, Windham Co., Vt., Londonderry, pop. sched., ED 253, p. 134(A) (stamped), dwell. 139, fam. 154, Homer J Twitchell, son in law in household of Cyrus Kingsbury.
  14. Jamaica, Vermont, Town Records, death card, Addie M. Gardner, 27 Dec 1924; index and digital images, “Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 26 Nov 2013).
  15. Londonderry, Vermont, Town Records, death card, Esther Eliza Aldrich, 19 Jan 1921; FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 26 Nov 2013).
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