Don't believe everything you find in scrapbooks!
This week I have been knee-deep in a hoard of family history archives that include a series of scrapbooks. These scrapbooks are being digitized to preserve the collected memorabilia and local history for the family of the scrapbooker.
Among the pages of the scrapbook number 13, Miscellaneous Keepsakes, was a newspaper article about a Will. The title of the articles was ‘The most beautiful will ever written”. You may have heard of this, or even seen it referred to in your research into Wills.
It was new to me, so I began my own explorations for the Last Will and Testament of Charles Lounsberry.
Was he a real person? Did he really write this beautiful will? Was he actually in an insane asylum where he wrote the will? Was he in fact a well-known lawyer?
I was intrigued with the printed article about the Will; snipped from the Daily Mirror in 1937 by the scrapbooker. The print was still quite clear and I could read the details.
According to this exhibit from tarlton.law.utexas.edu , the Will was actually created by Williston Fish; the name taken from an ancestor of his.
“Attorney, businessman, and part-time author, Williston Fish created the sentimental “Last Will of Charles Lounsbury” in 1897. As Fish recalled later: “The name, Charles Lounsbury . . . is a name in my family of three generations ago – back in York State where the real owner of it was a big, strong, all-around good kind of a man . . . [s]o I took the name of Charles Lounsbury to add strength and goodwill to my story. “The imaginary Lounsbury was variously identified as a wealthy client of Fish, an anonymous millionaire, a Chicago attorney housed in the Cook County Asylum, a hobo, and a destitute millionaire in a Chicago jail cell. In most versions, the will was found in the pocket of a tattered overcoat after the death of the owner.”
When I read the scrapbook article I was tempted to find this person, Charles Lounsberry, in the death notices in British Newspapers from FindMyPast. I could not find him for the year 1937 and was puzzled. So questions arose! Was the will written in 1937 or some other time?
I simplified my search in the British Newspapers, without the date or newspaper filters and found another article from the Montrose Standard 24 February 1911, referring to the same colourful Will.
My next step was to do a Google Search for Charles Lounsberry, Will – and there were several references. The one displayed above provided the truth of the matter, I think. Delving even deeper I was astounded to know that the piece was actually written in 1897 by Williston Fish – he wrote his most famous piece, Last Will of Charles Lounsbury as a fictional Last Will and Testament. It was first published in Harper’s Weekly on September 3, 1898. He was paid a total of ten dollars for his effort. A Last Will was printed in book form by the author in 1907.
Such an interesting story was revealed by taking a pasted article in a 1937 scrapbook as genuine; and then finding the truth of the matter, some 40 years back in time.
Don’t believe everything you read in Newspapers and don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!
Biggest Lie in Family History Blogging?
So, is this the biggest lie in family history blogging? Well, not really! However, it is an example of how important it is to research rigorously to uncover the truth.
This post is also an example of how a story can be built around a lie. A lie, an exaggeration, a made up story, or a fictionalised version of the truth – can lead to fascinating blog posts about the imagined lives of your ancestors. In fact, it may lead to the writing of a Fictional History Book about your family.
Tell your story, including the lie!
Telling a story, including the lie, is how I approached the writing of my Family History ebook, ‘The Devon Kin Keeper’ – a Genealogists Romantic Inheritance. The lie in this case was a fabrication of the archives surrounding a marriage between our ancestor and the daughter of an estate owner, to claim a legal inheritance.
The research into the articles printed in the British Newspapers, about my Uncle in 1928, were invaluable in getting to the truth of the legend that I had heard about in my family stories. William Allery’s exploits and claim to an estate had intrigued me for years and I just had to get to the bottom of this.
The Devon Kin Keeper is a work of fiction, based on facts surrounding the claims to inherit the Angell Estate, South London, England. The story is written from the perspective of three genealogists in the Allery family, myself, my sister Pamela Marie Allery (deceased) and our great uncle William Adrian Allery (deceased).
Many of the scenes and chapters evolved from my blog posts, compiled over a thirty-year span, about various members of the Allery family. Our roots stem from the small township of Townstal, Dartmouth in Devon, UK.
The purpose of the book is to clarify the Claim to the Angell
Estate inheritance which was newsworthy in the English
newspapers in 1928. Hundreds of people tried to prove they
were the true heirs to this vast estate that spread over the counties of Surrey and Devon. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners estimated that the Angell Estate, comprised of a township, two churches, a school, and several tenanted buildings, was worth sixty million pounds in 1928.
You can find details of the estate here:
Excerpt from the prologue
William Adrian Allery, the Devon Kin Keeper, became a well-known figure when he determined that his claim to the estate was evidenced by recent discoveries of marriage, baptisms, and birth entries in the parish registers of St Clements and St Saviours in Townstal, Dartmouth, Devon.
William seized a house on the estate in Brixton Road and notified the tenants that they should pay their rents to him as the Ground Landlord. He believed he was the rightful heir because of links he had discovered between the Angell and Allery families, through the marriage between Samuel Allery and Elizabeth Benedict; daughter of John Benedict and Mary Angell.
The research for this book has spread over three decades and has involved the collaboration of several members of my Allery family.
My interest for this Genealogist’s Romantic Inheritance was sparked thirty years ago from the initial research compiled by my sister, Pamela Marie Allery, now deceased.
Parts of this story are imaginary – the scenes of family members from the 1920s are entirely fictional. Parts of this story are true – the scenes of family members from 1990 to 2021 are based on real events experienced by me. The articles from the old newspapers, quoted in some chapters, are all faithfully transcribed, and provide evidence of the Angell Estate events unfolding from March to September 1928, 1930, 1932 and 1957.