Avoiding conflicts of interest
It is all too common a story in the records of the 1860s and 1870s.
A story of some lives cut short, other lives changed forever.
It’s a story that begins to be told in the records of a very young family on the 1860 census in St. Clair County, Alabama. The husband and father, Isaac Battles, a shirt-tail cousin to The Legal Genealogist, was just 21; his wife Malissa was 25; and their son Andrew was nine months old.1
A daughter would be added to the family in 1863,2 but there would be no more children born to Isaac and Malissa after Samantha joined the family.
Because something terrible was about to engulf this small Alabama family. The Civil War hit hard in this area of Alabama, and split families deeply between north and south. And Isaac went off to fight for the north.
On the 8th of December, 1863, at the age of 23, this farm boy from Alabama joined Company K of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. He was taken prisoner at Sulphur Trestle, Alabama, in September 1864,3 and was one of the men placed about a steamer in April of 1865 to be transferred from southern prison camps to the north.
The steamer was the Sultana.
Which made it only seven miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, before it exploded, burned and sank on 27 April 1865, killing roughly 1,700 men,4 including Isaac Battles. His final military record shows that he was “Killed or drowned by the explosion of Str Sultana.”5
By 1870, Malissa had remarried, and she and her Battles children were recorded under the surname of her new husband, Thomas William Painter.6 Andrew was shown as 10, Samantha as 7.
But something else was going on between those censuses. In March 1877, the two children — by then both over the age of 14 — asked the court to appoint their mother Melissa Painter as their guardian.9 The reason was simple: they were entitled to a federal pension as the minor heirs of a Civil War casualty.
The records that result provide a couple of really neat details at a time when birth records for this part of Alabama are few and far between: the boy Andrew turned 16 on 13 October 1875, making his birthdate 13 October 1859; and the girl Samantha turned 16 on 15 February 1879, making her birthdate 15 February 1863.
Their mother, acting as their guardian, made application for them to receive the benefit as their father’s heirs, and as guardian received the pension money and was required to account to the court for it.
And then there’s that one additional document. On the 12th of June 1880, John H. Walker of Etowah County, Alabama, was appointed guardian ad litem for Andrew Jackson and Samanetha E. Battles, children of Isaac Battles, deceased.
The form filed with the court by Walker stated that he accepted the appointment of guardian ad litem for the minors to “represent and protect their interests upon the hearing of the above application of Malissa J. Painter, guardian, for partial settlement of estate of said minors.”
What was that about?
Black’s Law Dictionary defines a guardian ad litem as a “guardian appointed by a court of justice to prosecute or defend for an infant in any suit to which he may be a party. … Most commonly appointed for infant defendants; infant plaintiffs generally suing by next friend. This kind of guardian has no right to interfere with the infant’s person or property.”10
The most common reason for the appointment of a guardian ad litem is the possibility that there could be a conflict between the regular guardian and the minor heirs. Any time an appointment is made ad litem it’s for a particular action, and to avoid the potential of a conflict of interest — where somebody like the guardian in this case might be tempted to take advantage of his or her position.
It’s a device to ensure that the person who’s getting the ad litem representation — the minor heirs in this case — have independent representation separate and apart from the guardian who — in this case — was trying to settle up with them.
And, in fact, there was a dispute in this case, between the mother as guardian and the daughter and her new husband, whom she married between 1880 and 1881. The dispute was submitted by both sides to a panel of arbitrators, who split the amount in dispute in half and awarded roughly half to the daughter and her husband and half to the mother.
Ad litem. “For the suit; for the purposes of the suit; pending the suit.”11
- 1860 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, Twp. 12, Range 4E, population schedule, pp. 127(A-B) (stamped), dwelling 218, family 216, Isaac Battles household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 23. ↩
- Etowah County, Alabama, Probate Case File B-2-8, Battles, Box 2, Folder 90; digital images, “Alabama Estate Files, 1830-1976,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 5 May 2015). ↩
- Isaac Battles, Pvt., Co. K, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry; Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Tennessee, NARA M395, 200 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1963); digital images, Fold3 (http://www.Fold3.com : accessed 5 May 2015), roll 22, Isaac Battles file. ↩
- See generally Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Sultana (steamboat),” rev. 1 May 2015. ↩
- Isaac Battles, Casualty Sheet; CMSR, Fold3 Isaac Battles file. ↩
- 1870 U.S. census, Etowah County, Alabama, Twp. 12, Range 4, population schedule, p. 249(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 77, T. W. Painter household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 16. ↩
- 1880 U.S. census, Etowah County, Alabama, area, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 68, p. 341(D) (stamped), dwelling 75, family 76, Thomas Painter household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 13. ↩
- Ibid., dwell. 70, fam. 71, Andrew J. Battles household. ↩
- Guardianship appointment, Etowah County, Alabama, Probate Case File B-2-8, Battles, Box 2, Folder 90; digital images, “Alabama Estate Files, 1830-1976,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 5 May 2015). ↩
- Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 551, “guardian ad litem.” ↩
- Ibid., 33, “ad litem.” ↩