Tucked inside a big old black safe in the Wood County Courthouse are the yellowing pages of unclaimed wills.
|Unclaimed wills are seen in a safe at the Wood County Courthouse. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
The last wills and testaments have been waiting to be claimed for 90 years or more. In an effort to find the rightful owners and to save valuable office space, the Wood County Probate Court is looking for family members to claim the wills drawn up by their ancestors.
"This is the first time there's been any attempt to clean up the wills," said Wood County Probate Judge Dave Woessner.
The "ancient wills" have been on file with the court for 90 years or more, the judge said. The oldest one dates back to 1856.
Ohio law has long allowed people to deposit their wills directly with probate courts, rather than keep them at home or leave them with their attorney.
But in the cases of these ancient wills, the documents for one reason or another went unclaimed.
"In all of these instances, something happened," Woessner said.
It is unknown if any of the 60-some wills involve vast sums. "Frankly, they haven't been open," the judge said. And it's highly likely that assets in the wills were dispersed years ago.
The rightful owners of many more old wills have already been identified recently, thanks to the local genealogical society tracking down families. But several remain unclaimed.
"We've whittled it down as best we can," Woessner said.
Many of the names are familiar to Wood County, such as Carter, Dauterman, Donaldson, Hanely, Henry, Hummel, Isch, Ladd, Peinert, Schneider and Timmons. The listing also includes their town of residence and year the will was deposited with the court.
The wills will be released to people offering proof they should be turned over to them.
Descendants wanting to claim the wills will have to submit written requests, according to Jen Robeson, office manager for the probate court. The judge will review the requests make a determination on each.
|A will for Lucinda Wiley stored at the Wood County Courthouse dates back to May of 1879.
A month after publication in the Sentinel-Tribune, any wills still not claimed will be opened, digitally scanned and then stored on microfilm. The originals will be destroyed. The scanned copies will be held "indefinitely," Woessner said.
Such purging of the actual paper wills is being conducted in several counties for "housekeeping" purposes, according to the judge.
"It's a space issue," he said.
The old wills have been housed in a "really, really old safe," that the judge said is "busting at the seams with stuff."
Robeson pointed out that the probate court will still accept wills for county residents who don't want to keep them at home or at their attorney's office.
"People don't know they can deposit wills in probate for safe keeping," she said.
A list of the ancient wills in probate court can be found below:
Eugenie Aigrisse, Rossford, June 1901; Henry F. Arndt, Walbridge, Mar 1901; Aaron B. Austen, Henry Twp, June 1902; Sarah E. Bell, Portage, Dec 1881; Henry Boozer, Bloom Twp, Aug 1879; William Bowles, Milton Twp, Feb 1919; James Carter, Freeport, Jan 1872; Ocey C. Cole, Center Village (Delaware County), Dec 1903; Mary M. Dauterman, Mermill, Jan 1917; Frederick Delanos, Seneca Cty, May 1881; David Donaldson, unk, Dec 1871; John L. Dull, Weston, Mar 1890; Joseph B. Durliat, Milton Twp, Mar 1914, Earnest F. Fork, Webster Twp, May 1895; Martin Fuker (Fuhrer), Perrysburg Twp, Feb. 1884; Emma Graham, Pemberville, Oct 1917; Samuel Hanely, Lake Twp, Dec 1920, Henry Harmon, Bowling Green, Feb 1891; James B. Heath, Rudolph, Sept 1914; Mary B. Heller, Milton Center, March 1890; Nathaniel Heller, unk, Sept 1881; John F. Henry, Perrysburg, Sept 1903; Martin Henry, Perrysburg, June 1877; James Hewitt, Troy Twp, Feb 1877; Jerome H. Hill, Bays, Feb 1902; William Houston, Weston, July 1896; William F. Hummel, Risingsun, July 1906; Benedict Isch, Lake Twp, Nov 1870; Charles D. Jones, North Baltimore, Jan 1915; Ann Klopfenstein, Center Twp, June 1881; Caroline Koch, Custar, Dec 1880; Franz Koch, Custar, Jan 1880; David Ladd, Unk, May 1856; George W. Lance, Custar, Dec 1916; Eliza Annie Lewis, Lake Twp, June 1905; Lydia S. Mack, Detroit, Aug 1914; Minna A. Mann, Portage, Nov 1905; George J. Mauthe, Pemberville, Mar 1920; Sarah Megginson, Washington Twp, Feb 1887; Elizabeth Miller, Perrysburg, Jan 1880; John Miller, Perrysburg, Nov 1869; Royal J. Miller, Rudolph, Dec 1918; Lee Moore, Bowling Green, Oct 1871; John Muir, Webster Twp, Dec 1880; Leah Neier, Hammansburg, July 1902; Frederick Peinert, Haskins, July 1902; George Peterson, Prairie Depot, Aug 1910; George P. Phillips, Washington Twp, Nov 1899; Hannah Phillips, Bowling Green, Aug 1892; Mary Pohle, Custar, Oct 1908; Mary Powers, Weston, Dec 1890; Charles Redfern, Unk, Sept 1906; William Rogers, Latcha Twp, Sept 1893 Frederick Sanders, Lake Twp, Mar 1887, Frederick Schneider, Perrysburg, Mar 1902; Simon Sherman, Unk, May 1884; H.E. Smith, Risingsun, Mar 1913; John Smith, Lake Twp, April 1864; Frank Snyder, Bradner, Sept 1890; Henry Speck, Perrysburg, Aug 1894; John St. John, Ross Twp, Oct 1909; Marcelene St. John, Ross Twp, Oct 1909; Nancy E. Switzer, Perry Twp, Dec 1908; Lemuel Timmons, Bradner, July 1919; John Troutman, Webster Twp, Jan 1874; Sarah Vallance, Prairie Depot, June 1878; Lucinda Wiley, Custar, May 1879; James Wright, Troy Twp, Nov 1879.