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Remember the rule: no assumptions

It is, The Legal Genealogist suggests, a reasonable assumption to make.

Those annual reports from guardians in probate cases are really dull reading.

So many of these guardianship accounts are little more than line entries with amounts collected or paid.

Oh, I’m not suggesting there isn’t genealogical value to these records.

There’s much to be learned from discovering that — say — Mary Ibbotson was the guardian of Clark, Albert, Ethel and Hester Ibbotson in Louisa County, Iowa, in 1897.1 Or that F.W. Crossley served as the guardian of Oscar A. Wanzer, minor heir of Henry Wanzer and Cyrena Wanzer, that same year.2

And I’m always interested in knowing what things cost at different places and times. So I’m always going to make a point of noting, for example, that fees for medical services in that Iowa County in the the late 1800s ran from about $12.003 to about $25.00.4


But … let’s face it … line entries with amounts collected or paid are really dull reading.


It’d be pure assumption that any set of guardianship account records would only contain those line entries, wouldn’t it? Making assumptions is one of the biggest mistakes we can make as genealogists. And one of the worst assumptions we make is that, because this set of records of a particular type contains X, Y and Z, every set of records of the same type will have the same content.

And oh boy are these Louisa County, Iowa, annual guardianship reports a case in point. There’s so much more in so many of these records, in a single paragraph of text before those boring line entries.

For example, in November 1896, George W. Hayden, guardian of Lula M. Carson, minor heir of H. P. Carson, filed his report with the court as to his efforts on behalf of this young African-American: “The girl is now 14 years old she was left on my hands about a year ago destitute neither shoes nor shoes … could not make any arrangements for her a home here, so let her go to a colored family in Burlington by the name of Graham…”5 In December 1897, Hayden told the court: “On or about June 21st Mr. Geo. Graham a young colored man of 22 years of age made application to marry Lulu M. my ward and upon investigating of the circumstance gave my consent and they were married about that time.”6

Sure, we might have found the marriage record of George Graham and Lucinda M. Carson in the Louisa County records for June of 1897.7 But the text in these accounts puts that marriage into a whole ‘nother context, doesn’t it?

Let me quote just a few others:

• “(S)ince the death of their mother which occured (sic) on the 1st of Feby 1897 he has sent said Wards to Cherokee Ia & given them into the care and custody of Dr. Hutchnis their Uncle where they have the advantage of a good school & home at a very nominal expense.”8

• “That he has paid out for the education of one of said heirs, viz: Fletcher Laforge the interest that has accrued on his share, he having been a student in the Wesleyan University at Mt. Pleasant…”9

• “That this ward is still living with his Grandmother and that he is kept at school.”10

• “(T)he repairs necessary and the support of the family has more than absorbed the whole income of the farm. Loss of hogs by cholera and low price of corn &c has much reduced the income.”11

And what a genealogical gem there is in the report by that same guardian from the last entry above, just a year later. The report was filed by “Mary O. Reece (formerly Mary O. Ibbotson)” — so we know to look for a marriage in that year — and, it says, “The Ward Clark Ibbotson is now of age…,” with an attached receipt in which that son reports: “I have attained the age of Twenty one years on the 18th day of November A.D. 1898” — giving us a birthdate of 18 November 1877, even if we couldn’t find that in any other source.12

Yes, guardianship account records are often just line entries with amounts collected or paid.

But not always.

Remember the rule: no assumptions.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “About those annual reports,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 2 Feb 2022).


  1. Louisa County, Iowa, Annual Reports of Guardians Book 2: 32, Report of Mary O. Ibbotson, 18 November 1897; FamilySearch digital film 007596172, image 49, FamilySearch ( : accessed 2 Feb 2022). Note that this film is viewable online only at the Family History Library or an affiliated site.
  2. Ibid., image 20, Book 2: 11, report of F.W. Crossley, January term 1897.
  3. Ibid., image 48, Book 2: 31, report of R.D. Jamison, guardian of Grant, Maud, Frank, Harry, Clarence & Florence Sample, August term 1897.
  4. Ibid., image 25, Book 2: 15, report of Bertha R. Lieberknecht, guardian of William Ray Ronald, August term 1897.
  5. Ibid., image 13, Book 2: 4, report of George W. Hayden, November Term 1896.
  6. Ibid., image 50, Book 2: 33, report of George W. Hayden, 31 December 1897.
  7. Louisa County, Iowa, Marriage Record Book H (1892-1898): 501, Marriage license and return, Graham-Carson, 24 June 1897; FamilySearch digital film 004309898, image 298, FamilySearch ( : accessed 2 Feb 2022).
  8. Louisa County, Ia., Annual Reports of Guardians Book 2: 21, FamilySearch digital film 007596172, image 31, report of J. S. Blair, guardian of Robert E. and Catharine E. Caldwell, Minor Heirs of Robert Caldwell, 1 June 1897.
  9. Ibid., image 33, Book 2: 23, report of T.O. Williams, guardian of Fletcher, John R. and Vernie Laforge, Minor Heirs of John Laforge, 29 May 1897.
  10. Ibid., image 47, Book 2: 30, of W.H. Robinson, guardian of Samuel R. McClintock, Minor Heir of Lizzie J. Alexander, 14 February 1898.
  11. Ibid., image 49, Book 2: 32, report of Mary O. Ibbotson, 18 November 1897.
  12. Ibid., image 69, Book 2: 51, report of Mary O. Reece, 7 December 1898.
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