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Jesse’s guardian

Reader Carol Bickel is struggling to find out more about Jesse Brooks of Blair County, Pennsylvania. She has a court paper from the Blair County Orphans’ Court dated 27 January 1868 and it raises as many questions as it might answer.

The order was to appointing a guardian for Jesse, who was about 17 years old in 1868. His stepfather, Henry Walters, was named as guardian, with a bond of $600 ordered to be filed. Perhaps, she wondered, there was some significance to that: “My question,” she asks, “is what does the $600 bond indicate?”

The document in question, reproduced here, is a docket entry from the Blair County Orphans’ Court, and reads, in its entirety:

The Petition of Jesse Brook a minor over the age of fourteen years was read setting forth that he has no Guardian to take care of his person or estate and praying the Court to be permitted to chose a Guardian and the Court to appoint a Guardian.
Whereupon 27 Jany 1868 it is considered by the Court and ordered that Henry Walters be & is hereby appointed Guardian to give bond in the sum of $600 – Same day Bond approved and filed.1

What Carol knows about Jesse is that he was born out of wedlock to Mary Ickes in November 1851, that he listed his father as Jesse Brooks and his mother as Mary Ickes in his application for a license for his second marriage in 1890, and that he was regarded in the Walters’ family as very much a part of the family, a brother to the Walters’ children, and the son “born before Mom married Pop.”2

So… what are we to make of this bond?

We’ve talked about bonds before around here, with respect to marriage bonds and administrators’ bonds, and even the bond of an apprentice’s master. In every case, it’s a promise to the court to do the job the court appointed the person to do, or else the person would have to pay over some set sum.

So there are really two questions here: first, what exactly happened that caused young Jesse to need a guardian appointed; and, second, is there any significance to the amount of the bond?

The first question is a tough one, because the document itself doesn’t really give any clues to the answer. Looking at Pennsylvania law at the time, it’s pretty clear that the Orphans’ Court didn’t appoint a guardian for every child but only for a child where there was some reason for it.3 And Carol has already checked with the office of the clerk in Blair County, Pennsylvania, that now has the records, the Prothonotary4, and there’s nothing more in Jesse’s file.

Though the court document mirrors the law in speaking of the need for a “Guardian to take care of his person or estate,” it doesn’t say exactly why that was an issue. And there are at least four possible reasons why it might have become an issue at that time:

     • 1. Someone had been appointed as Jesse’s guardian earlier but died before January 1868, and so a replacement guardian was needed.

     • 2. Jesse had come into some property just before this application and a guardian was required to manage it for him.

     • 3. Some action needed to be taken for the first time as to property that had come to Jesse before 1868 and, since he was underage, a guardian was needed to take the action legally.

     • 4. Some action needed to be taken with respect to Jesse himself and a guardian was needed to take the action legally.

There’s isn’t any easy way to figure out which of these is the right choice. But let’s consider the possibilities and review some possible research to narrow this down.

If Jesse had had an earlier guardian, chances are pretty good that the court record would have mentioned that. Usually, when an appointment was a substitution, the court included some reference to the earlier appointment. For example, in 1867, the Blair County Orphans’ Court docket entry specifically set out that the appointment of a substitute guardian for one who wasn’t doing his job correctly.5 So that’s one reason to think this isn’t the most likely possibility.

But it can’t be ruled out. And, fortunately, it may be the easiest of the options to check. That’s because the records of the Orphans’ Court for Blair County and some of the surrounding counties are accessible online at FamilySearch in a set of images called the “Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994.”6

For Blair County, volumes A through C of the Orphans’ Court Docket cover the time frame during which an earlier guardian might have been appointed — 1851 through 1867 — and each of the three volumes has a name index at the front. The problem is that the index doesn’t name everyone involved in each of the docket entries. For example, the index for volume D, where Jesse’s guardian order was recorded, lists Jesse’s name — but not the name of his guardian.

Still, careful review of those three name lists might turn up an earlier record involving someone known to the family that would reference young Jesse. And the volumes themselves aren’t terribly hard to review, and it just might be worth going page by page from 1851 through the time when Jesse would have turned 21.

Both the second and third possibilities involve property. And the fact that there isn’t any other record in Jesse’s guardianship file may make those options a bit less likely than they would be otherwise. The reason is that the statute required a guardian who took control of property for a minor to account for it to the Orphans’ Court7 — and there’s no record of any accounting filed here.

To double-check against the possibility that the accounting was misfiled or lost, however, it’s necessary to check the tax records of Blair County to see if any property was taxed to Henry Walters as guardian for Jesse Brooks or taxed in Jesse’s name while he was still a minor. And the research should also include a careful review of any deeds in the name of either Brooks or Walters — perhaps land had to be sold and Jesse was too young to act on his own in selling real estate.

The tax and deed records don’t appear to be available online, but the Blair County Genealogical Society in Hollidaysburg has a terrific library, and its holdings include the Blair County Tax Records (starting from formation of the county in 1846) and all of the Blair County deed registers. The society’s website notes that folks can request lookups by regular mail to be done by volunteers, and the society will do full-blown research for $15 an hour.

There is one other complicating factor on the property side as well. Under the law, it was the Orphans’ Court in the county where the minor lived that appointed the guardian, but the property might have been located in another county. So the possibility exists that an accounting could have been filed elsewhere. It would be worth checking the name index portions of the probate records of nearby counties as well to see if perhaps an accounting was filed in another county. Again, fortunately, many of those records are online.8

So what about the last option? There were a number of reasons why Jesse might have needed a guardian that don’t relate to property. Since he was under age 21, he might have needed a guardian if he wanted to marry. That doesn’t appear to be the case; Jesse didn’t marry the first time until 1872. But there are other possibilities worth checking. Jesse may have wanted to be apprenticed to learn a trade, or to join the military. And that required a guardian’s consent for a boy not yet of age. And somebody may have sued him civilly, for damages or debt. And he would have needed a guardian to represent his interests in court. Checking back with the Prothonotary to see what regular court records exist for the late 1860s and early 1870s in Blair County would help answer where to go to start checking on that.

And then there’s that issue about the amount of the bond. There wasn’t any fixed rate set by the law — the statute simply said the court should set a bond9 (which, remember, is a promise to pay if the person giving the bond didn’t do what the law required him to do).

But comparing the Walters bond to others required by the same court around the same time, that was a pretty hefty bond — nobody else was required to post a bond anywhere near the amount of this bond to act as guardian for a single child. The same day, for example, the same court only required a $300 bond in the petition for appointment of a guardian for Catharine Mungold, a minor over age 14,10 and a $100 bond in the petition for appointment of a guardian for Charles Wesley Boring, a minor under age 14.11 On 3 February, that court ordered a bond of $900 — $300 each — for the guardianship of three Patterson children12 and the same amount for each of six Burket children, one over age 14 and five under 14.13 And on 6 April, the court set bond in the amount of $500 for the guardianship of two McCarl children.14

So a bond of $600 for one child was quite high for that time and place — and that may mean a really close look at the tax and land records is in order. Since the purpose of the bond was to be sure the guardian acted in the best interests of the child in protecting the child and his property, going to the property records may well be the best bet here.

Fun stuff, Carol! Let us know what you find out!


  1. Blair County, Pennsylvania, Orphans’ Court Docket Book D: 86, 1868 no. 22; Orphans’ Court Clerk, Hollidaysburg; ; “Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994,” database and digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 18 Sep 2012).
  2. Email, Carol Bickel to Judy G. Russell, “Question for The Legal Genealogist,” 12 Sep and 17 Sep, 2012.
  3. Act of 29 May 1832, Chapter CCCCXXVIII, in James Dunlop, editor, The General Laws of Pennsylvania from the year 1700 to April 1849, 2d edition (Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson, 1849), 534-555; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 19 Sep 2012).
  4. The title of chief clerk in some courts, particularly in Pennsylvania. See Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 958, “prothonotary.”
  5. Blair County, Pa., Orphans’ Court Docket Book D: 97, 1868 no. 61.
  6. “Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994,” database and digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 18 Sep 2012).
  7. See § ix, Act of 29 May 1832, Chapter CCCCXXVIII, in Dunlop, ed., The General Laws of Pennsylvania from the year 1700 to April 1849, 535.
  8. “Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994,” database and digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 18 Sep 2012).
  9. See § viii, Act of 29 May 1832, Chapter CCCCXXVIII, in Dunlop, ed., The General Laws of Pennsylvania from the year 1700 to April 1849, 535.
  10. Blair County, Pa., Orphans’ Court Docket Book D: 77, 1868 no. 8.
  11. Blair County, Pa., Orphans’ Court Docket Book D: 78, 1868 no. 10.
  12. Blair County, Pa., 1868 no. 45.
  13. Blair County, Pa., Orphans’ Court Docket Book D: 92, 1868 nos. 46-47.
  14. Blair County, Pa., Orphans’ Court Docket Book D: 97, 1868 no. 59.
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