Unexpected Memories Found In Probate Files

When I met with Judy Schneider a couple weeks ago, she was serving her last days as the Door County Register in Probate. After 22 years in the position, she was retiring due to health issues, and I went down to the Door County Justice Center to talk to her about the unsung job that I realized I knew nothing about.

We talked for about half an hour about the detailed responsibilities of her job, but Schneider perked up when I expressed interest in looking at some old probate files. She told me that you can learn a lot by looking at the records of a person’s final assets, and after looking at a couple of old documents on microfilm, she suggested that we look up my relatives if I had any who had died in the county.

Soon, she was handing me files about my grandfather, who died before I was born, and my grandmother, the only grandparent I ever knew. I didn’t expect these old legal documents to spark memories, but soon they were surfacing after a look at the short list of my grandmother’s final debts.

There was the WPS bill, a tab for snowplowing, and the types of bills that come with old age – lifeline, County Rescue, the nursing home, a doctor’s bill. But there was also a bill for $26.64 from Main Street Market.

In my grandmother’s last years she was limited to moving with a walker, then a wheelchair. As she aged, it fell upon the grandkids to run errands for her, like running to the store to buy coffee, milk, and cookies, all of which went on her charge account. I looked at that total, though, and it made me think specifically of one item – the Old Fashioned glazed donuts we always picked up for her in the gold package of six. I remembered how much I loved it when she asked one of us to pick them up, because it meant whoever made the run was going to get one of them.

Then there was her final bill for the Chicago Tribune, $40.33. Every day, for 30 years after she moved to Egg Harbor from Chicago, she still had “the Trib” delivered like so many of the city’s emigrants to Door County. It was the Tribune’s big blue masthead that I found on a round, vinyl-covered footstool next to her sitting table every day when I visited her after getting off the school bus. She set it there for me every day, sports page on top, knowing that the days would be few and far between when I wouldn’t stop by to read Bob Verdi, Jerome Holtzman, and Bernie Lincicome as we kept an eye on Egg Harbor’s main intersection.

Schneider had told me that you can learn a lot from the seemingly mundane information in old probate files. I found that there was a lot to remember.

You can read more about Schneider in the latest Pulse by clicking here>>