Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hanging Out the Zirkle Dirty Laundry


Witness List Zirkle Case
The Zirkle Family Home
Like many families the Zirkles had their share of dirty laundry which was aired in court in early 19th Century Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. A full accounting of this court case can be found at Virginia Memory. It is comprised of 57 pages, which include 4 wills made by Lewis Zirkle, and the testimony of friends and neighbors. Some members of the Zirkle family came away better off than others in his last will. Changes in his wishes at the end of his life were construed by some as resulting from coercion by those living with him in his household.
My own ancestor Mary Eva Roller, Lewis Zirkle's daughter, seemed to make out better in his first wills. She would get less than 50% of the money she would have received in his first wills in his final will. You can see her declining fortunes here:

  1. Exhibit A. Will dated May 21, 1806 Will Mary Eva Zirkle/Roller received 130 pounds current money
  2. Exhibit B. Undated Will  the same Mary Eva receives 130 pounds current money
  3. Exhibit C. Will dated 1812 Mary Eva's fortunes are somewhat on the decline she now receives 110 pounds
  4. Exhibit D Will dated 10 July 1814 Mary Eva now receives only 24 pounds?


Many of her other siblings saw a similar decline in their inheritance. This spurred them to file the court case to  "break the will". Lewis and Daniel Zirkle were given the bulk of Lewis Zirkle Sr.'s property along with their mother. They lived with him before his death and may have exercised undue influence over him?
To "break the Will" the family would need to prove that Lewis Zirkle Sr. was incompetent to execute a will when the 1814 will was written. Both sides called witnesses supporting their side of the story (see image at the top of the page).
At the outset of the case the family didn't want to injure Lewis Zirkle's reputation (or their own)
so the original complaint stated he was incompetent due to illness. Later it came out that he often drank Whiskey and was sometimes drunk. Here is some of the testimony:

All of those testifying agreed that Lewis Zirkle was "fond of drink".  But they also agreed he stayed away from transacting  business when he was drinking. 

According to this Lewis Zirkle was in advanced old age when he died. He was debilitated in mind and body.
This man thought he witnessed a possible "fit" which would point to ill health.
This testimony seems to speak to the issue of bullying. Son Daniel refuses to help his father Lewis, and calls him a childish fool
This testimony states Lewis' wife Mary Magdalene also called her husband Childish and Stupid, but in a playful way
More testimony by a defense witness that the Mrs. Zirkle would tease her husband in a "romancing way".
Here is prosecution testimony demonstrating that Lewis Zirkle could be bullied by his wife. This person had to screen him from her.
According to this Mr. Zirkle was worried about his will being broken before his death.
This witness said he offered a donation of $50 to break the will because it was an "unjust will".
According to this testimony Mr. Zirkle was a kind father but his children did not altogether obey.
According to Mr. Zirkle's Reverend he seemed to be sensible right up to the time of his death
According to this testimony Mrs. Zirkle ruled over Mr. Zirkle.
According to this witness Mr. Zirkle would give in to his family to avoid trouble.

Some of the witnesses may have had conflicts of interest. At least one purchased land from Daniel Zirkle from the estate, and might have to return it if the will was broken. It's tough to know who to believe without Lewis Zirkle Sr.'s testimony?












2 comments:

Nan said...

"Well Behaved Ancestors Rarely Leave Records" is what I've always heard. Many of the cases I've read have more to do with money, land & other assets than they do with misbehavior (though I did have a set of 4th great grandparents that had a juicy case involving spousal abuse).

These chancery cases, the Ohio probate packets on family serach, other sources where you still find original documents are a treasure to me. Most of what you see in deed & will books are just copies by the court clerk and don't have original signatures. I want to start collecting images of the original signatures and add them as photos on my Ancestry tree. Do you use the windows snipping tool to pull out the excerpts you use or do you use something else?

Annette said...

We are very fortunate the Zirkles didn't sit quietly at home! Thanks again for finding all this Nan!
Yes, I do use the snipping tool to save portions of documents. I also sometimes use Fast Stone Capture, which I downloaded. This program is also handy because it has a scrolling feature.