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Milking every detail

On the 6th day of December 1909, Carrie H. Viereck of Kent County, Delaware, was appointed guardian of the four Viereck children: Henry W., Jr., who was 15 years of age; Elizabeth V., who was 11; Mary M., who was four; and Bertha S., who was two.

Del-guardianShe was, she said in her petitions for the younger children, the widow of Henry W. Viereck, who died intestate on the 24th of October 1909, and entitled to dower in the real estate of her late husband, several small rental properties and other lots worth about $3,500 total.

The children were each entitled to a one-fourth undivided interest in their father’s estate, and the older two were the named beneficiaries for a life insurance policy worth $2,000.1

Now by the early 20th century it wasn’t all that unusual for a mother to be named guardian of her children when they were inheriting property from their father, and in this case the oldest boy, Henry Jr., who was over the age of 14 and so entitled to choose a guardian, asked to have Carrie appointed.

So this is a simple, typical, family, where the father died and the mother took over and, with court approval, managed her children’s property, right?

Not exactly.

There are two clues in what The Legal Genealogist has already told you about this case that things may not have been exactly what they seem on the surface.

You’ve spotted both of them, I’m sure, and you may be wondering about those two not-quite-adding-up facts.

The first, of course, is the seven-year age gap between Elizabeth, the 11-year-old, and Mary, the four-year-old. By itself, not all that unusual: child mortality may have taken a toll in the intervening years.

But add in the second fact: that only the older two children were named as beneficiaries of the insurance policy. Now you have a reason to think twice about this family.

And that’s where the reading every word part comes in.

Because Henry Jr.’s guardianship papers add a key word to the mix here. His petition for the appointment of a guardian reads, in relevant part, that “he is a minor above the age of fourteen years … and … prays the Court to appoint his said step-mother, Carrie H. Viereck as his guardian…”2

Step-mother, not mother.

And if Carrie was Henry Jr.’s step-mother, and Henry Jr. and Elizabeth are the two being treated differently, then she was likely Elizabeth’s step-mother as well.

You can confirm that theory, in this case, by looking at the census records for 1910. Carrie was the head of household on that census in Milford, shown with her step-son Henry William, step-daughter Elizabeth V., and daughters Mary M. and Bertha S. More, she’s shown as mother of only three children, all three surviving, and there’s also a 12-year-old son Harold E. Henry in the household.3

Now that tells us something about Carrie’s relationship to these older two children. That oldest boy didn’t have to choose her as his guardian. He could have opted for someone from his father’s family, if any had lived in the area, or some adult friend, or a neighbor. So they must have been getting along reasonably well.

And that’s borne out by reading every word and milking every detail from the rest of the file. Because when the boy grew to be a man, he married and moved to Philadelphia — and sold what remained of his interest in his father’s estate to that step-mother Carrie.4

Reading every word, you’d pick up the fact that the boy turned 21 on the 8th of January 1915 (so you now have his exact birthday: 8 January 1894), that he had by then married a woman named Elizabeth, and that he sold his rights in the property to Carrie by deed dated 10 April 1915.5

And, reading every word, you’d pick up the fact that his sister Elizabeth turned 21 by the time the estate was finally settled in 1920: she turned 21 on 23 February 1920 (so you now have her exact birthday: 23 February 1899).6

There’s more, of course, to be found in this file, as there is in just about every court file on just about every family.

As long as you read every word.

And milk every detail.


  1. Kent County, Del., Orphans’ Court Record 1909-20, #55, Estate of Henry W. Viereck Sr., Petitions for Appointment of Guardian; digital images, “Delaware Orphan Court Records, 1680-1978 > Kent > Orphans’ Court records 1889-1967” FamilySearch ( : accessed 18 May 2016), citing Delaware Public Archives, Dover.
  2. Ibid., Petition of Henry W. Viereck of Milford, Kent Co., Del., September term 1909.
  3. 1910 U.S. census, Kent County, Delaware, Milford, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 184(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 2, Carrie H. Viereck household; digital image, ( : accessed 18 May 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 145.
  4. Kent County, Del., Orphans’ Court Record 1909-20, #55, Estate of Henry W. Viereck Sr., Petition for Partition, 7 Feb 1920.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., Confirmation and Decree for Distribution, 6 March 1920.
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