Monday, November 2, 2015

The Emerick vs. Astor Affair

HEIRS OF EMERICK SUE FOR TWO-THIRDS OF ASTOR MILLIONS
 New York, May 25. -- [Special.] --

Heirs of John Nicholas Emerick, furrier, merchant and one time business associate of Stephen Girard, began suit in the United State District court today for two-thirds of the proceeds of the estate of John Jacob-Astor Sr., who founded the Astor family and fortune in this country and died March 29, 1848.

Grounds for the suit, according to the bill of complaint are that Emerick met Astor when he was a poor boy, taught him the business, made him a one-third partner in 1737 and later made him trustee of his estate for ninety years, after which it was to be divided among the descendants of Emerick's brothers, Christopher and Valentine. John Nicholas Emerick being a bachelor. A sum estimated at $39,000,000 is . . . the suit.
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TWO-THIRDS OF ASTOR ESTATE SOUGHT IN SUIT
 EMERICK DESCENDANTS CLAIM 90-YEAR TRUST WAS MADE BETWEEN TWO PARTNERS

 By Associated Press.
NEW YORK, May 25.--A law suit that harks back 150 years to the days when John Jacob Astor was a poor boy in a new country was begun today in the Federal District Court, where descendants of John Nicholas Emerick, Astor's partner, seek two-thirds of the half a billion dollar estate the original Emerick is reputed to have left.

The action is bathed in an aura of romance and hinges upon an arrangement by which Emerick is alleged to . . . established Astor as the trustee in a 90-year trust of his interest in their partnership. At the expiration of that period, Astor, or his heirs was to have divided the estate between descendants of Emerich's two brothers, John and Valentine.

In the complaint filed today it is alleged that in 1902, when the trust had only three years more to run, a legal representative of the elder Astor's estate told a descendant of John Emerick of the trust agreement. The Emerick estate, this lawyer then said, was worth $30,000,000 at that time.

Tradition tells that Emerick died on a fur-laden vessel in 1817 and was buried at sea off the Labrador coast. He left no will, it was believed, but in recent years heirs in many sections of the country have pushed a vigorous search for the document which they believed would bring them a fortune.

More than 300 such heirs have appeared to file their claims to the Emerick estate, and last December a paper now said to be Emerick's will was found in the lining of an old trunk. What purports to be a copy of the alleged trust agreement between Astor and Emerick also is offered in the present suit.

The plaintiffs in this suit are Edna Carnahan of Eau Claire, Wis., Christina Campbell of Appleton, Wis., and John Thomas Emerick of Waukegan, Ill. All of them are descendants of the two brothers of John Nicholas Emerick. They are represented by Fred H. Rees of New York, Calvin J. Hoey of St. Louis, Evan B. Lewis of Philadelphia, and Charles W. Letzgus of Camden, N.J.

They demand an accounting of two thirds of the properties owned by the Astor-Emerick partnership and ask that the defendants, trustees and heirs of the Astor estate, be enjoined from transferring properties derived from the partnership pending determination of the suit. They also demand a complete accounting of all property transfers between the date of the 90-year-trust agreement and March, 1848, the date of the first Astor's death.

Besides the banks acting as trustees for the Astor estate, the defendants named include William Vincent Astor, a great-great-great-grandson of the original Astor.

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New York Times, May 26, 1928, pp.1 & 2, cols. 2 & 7.

 HEIRS OF 'PARTNER' SUE ASTOR'S ESTATE
EMERICK PROPERTY SOUGHT

Times Square Land Involved -- Papers Found Last April Tell of Trader's Compact.

 Heirs of John Nicholas Emerick, furrier, merchant and business associate of Stephen Girard, began suit in the United States District Court yesterday for two-thirds of the proceeds of the estate of John Jacob Astor Sr., who founded the Astor family and fortune in this country and died March 29, 1848.

According to the bill of complaint filed yesterday, Emerick met Astor when he was a poor boy, taught him the business, made him a one-third trustee of his estate for ninety years, after which it was to be divided amoung the descendants of Emerick's brothers, Christopher and Valentine. John Nicholas Emerick being a bachelor.

The plaintiffs contend that the Astor descendants have not complied with the terms of the trust agreement, but have "concealed the assets of the said partnership and fraudulently converted and conveyed the same along with their property." They ask that the defendants be enjoined from disposing of all property growing out of the partnership and that a receiver be appointed to take over all such property and preserve the interest of the plaintiffs until an accurate statement is obtained.

Say Lawyer Admitted Debt.

Although no accounting has ever been made to the Emerick heirs, the papers assert that in 1902 a legal representative of the estate of John Jacob Astor Sr, admitted that "there was at that time a trust fund and estate arising out of the partnership which had existed between John Nicholas Emerick and John Jacob Astor, Sr., which fun then amounted to $39,000,000."

Legal representatives of the heirs would make no estimate yesterday of the amount they sought in the suit, merely saying that the figure by now would be huge, but that not even a guess was possible until an accounting of the Astor estate had been obtained.

The three complainants named when the suit was filed represent about 900 heirs residing in forty States and in Canada, Phillipine Islands and Germany. The plaintiffs are Edna Carnahan of Eau Claire, Wis; Christina Campbell of Appleton, Wis, and John Thomas Emerick of Waukegan, IL.

The defendants are Charles A. Peabody, trustee of the estate of the first John Jacob Astor, the Farmers Loan and Trust Company, trustee of the estate of the second John Jacob Astor, who died in the Titanic disaster, and William Vincent Astor as legatee and trustee of the second John Jacob Astor yesterday that they planned to press the suit vigorously and that they hoped for an early conclusion. They planned to file the will of John Nicholas Emerick, which had been found with other papers that enabled them to go forward with the suit, in Philadelphia soon.

Papers Found Last April.

Last April some of the necessary papers were found in an old leather chest that had been the property of Emerick the merchant, which was then in the possession of Edna Carnahan. Some of the documents were in the lining at the top of the box, the lawyers said, and another was found in a small antique snuff box. These documents, they believe, will prove accurate a belief, that has existed among Emerick's descendants for about 100 years, that they had an interest in part of the Astor estate.

The documents filed with the complaint are the alleged partnership agreement and a statement signed by Emerick in which he explained that he had left other papers in his trunk to safeguard his estate and expressed distrust of Astor. The partnership agreement reads:

"The Articles of Agreement Witnesseth: That we, the undersigned, have this day entered in a contract of co-partnership with headquarters at New York, the proceeds of the said business to be divided two thirds to John N. Emerick and one-third to John J. Astor; that each agrees with the other to give faithful attention to the partnership business. This agreement shall apply to transactions made by either of the undersigned in the fur trade shipping business, merchandise, or any other business transaction in which either shall be engaged.

In witness have hereunto set our hand and seal this 20th day of June, 1787.

John M. Emerick,
John Jacob Astor."

Tells of Distrust of Astor.

The other document is signed "John Nicholas Emerick" and is dated Oct. 24, 1815, at Germantown, PA. It says:

"This is to certify that I, John Nicholas Emerick two-thirds joint owner and partner of John Jacob Astor have left in trust with said partner my estate for a period of 90 years after which time said estate together with the accumulations there from shall be given to and divided between the descendants of my two brothers Christopher and Valentine that said heirs shall be advertised for every ten years until found and due settlement made.

 I further state John Astor was a poor boy I loan him money and teach him the business.

Further state I value one million dollars and I own ships, and 35 acres of land at New York City, partly inside the present city limits.

4,000 acres land in the coal belt Berks County Pennsylvania adjoining Stephen Girard with whom I was once associated in business, 300 acres partly in the city of Germantown and other small acreage.

I have made other legal papers, but fearing Astor as he is not the man I thought when I made him my partner, I am leaving papers in my trunk to safeguard my estate."

The land located in the New York City is bounded by Broadway, Sixth Avenue and Forty-second and Forty-third streets.

Some of the Emerick heirs are wealthy, according to Mr. Hoy, but the cost of the work so far has been borne by contributions from members of the John Nicholas Emerick Heirs Association.

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900 HEIRS OF JOHN NICHOLAS EMERICK ARE SEEKING $39,000,000 ESTATE OF JOHN JACOB ASTOR
 NEW YORK, May 26.--The ghost of John Jacob Astor stalked through United States district court here today, where $39,000,000 of the Astor estate is sought by 900 heirs of John Nicholas Emerick, who died in Philadelphia a century ago.

Emerick, a furrier, merchant and business associate of Stephen Girard, was a partner of Astor, according to a bill of complaint filed. It is confirmed by petitioners that he met Astor when the latter was a poor boy, taught him the fur business, made him a one-third partner in 1787 and later made him trustee of his estate for ninety years, after which it was to be divided among the descendants of Emerick's two brothers.

The defendants are Charles A. Peabody, trustee of the estate of John Jacob Astor, Sr., estate; the Farmers' Loan and Trust company, trustee of John P. Astor, a son, William B. Astor and William Vincent Astor, great-grandson of the founder of the Astor wealth.

Action was not taken before, according to the complaint, because it was only in April that one of the plaintiffs found an "old leather chest once the property of John Nicholas Emerick" stored away and a relic of her ancestors, in which certain documents were found."

The plaintiffs in the action are Edna Carnahan, of Eau Claire, Wis., Christina Campbell, of Appleton, Wis., and John Thomas Emerick, of Waukegan, Ill., all descendants of Christopher Emerick, a brother of John Nicholas Emerick.

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28 June 1928

AGED HEIR TO VAST FORTUNE IS DEAD

Four weeks after learning that he was the direct heir to ten million dollars, Alfred E. Ullom of the Camp Keltner neighborhood died without ever having seen the tremendous fortune that had come to him. Mr. Ullom was found dead in the morning when called to breakfast by his family at his home some 15 miles southeast of Elkhart. Death was evidently due to heart trouble and he died while he slept..

The fortune concerning which Mr. Ullom received definite information less than a month ago will in all probability descend to his children, although his death may involve the vast sum of money in still further litigation. The inheritance was to come to Mr. Ullom from a great uncle who was a partner of John Jacob Astor in the fur business more than a century ago, and the money has been tied up in his estate for that length of time. A will made by the great uncle was recently found among the effects of Astor, the fur king, and immediate effort was made to execute the will.

 By terms of the will the money was to remain in escrow until after the death of the last of the second generation of heirs and it is believed that Mr. Ullom is the final one to go so that the principal may be distributed soon.

Alfred Ullom was born May 12, 1847, in Virginia, and died at the age of 81 years, two months and 14 days. He had lived in Texas county for more than 20 years, having come from Illinois. He is survived by his wife and several children, two of which, Lawrence and Frank live on the home place.

Funeral services will be held at the home tomorrow at 10 in the morning under the direction of Rev. D.P.Smith, pastor of the Church of God. Ralph Peacock, undertaker, will take the body to Guymon from where it will be taken to Coffeyville for interment.

 Died July 26, 1928.
Buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Coffeyville, KS.
Block 19, Lot 1, Plot 7.

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$34,000 ASTOR FARM NOW WORTH BILLION

New York, July 10 -- (U.S.) -- A tract of land, known as the Medrif farm. When the late John Jacob Astor purchased it 150 years ago for $34,000, Wednesday has an assessed valuation in excess of one billion dollars, realty figures disclosed.

 The original Medrif farm extended from what is now Columbus circle directly through the center of Manhattan island to old Wall Street. What was once a cowpath on the Astor tract is now the "great white way" section of Broadway.

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New York Times, September 15, 1928, p. 10, Col. 14.

ARGUE EMERICK SUIT FOR ASTOR MILLIONS

Attorneys for 900 Heirs of Alleged Partner Oppose Motion to Dismiss.

Deny Limitations Apply.

Counsel for Big Estate Assert Case is from 11 to 84 Years Too Late. Decision Reserved.

Federal Judge Thomas D. Thacher listened for two hours yesterday to arguments on motions to dismiss a suit for two-thirds of the estate of John Jacob Astor Sr, founder of the Astor fortune, who died March 29, 1848. The three complainants, who represent about 900 heirs of John Nicholas Emerick, an alleged business partner of the senior Astor are Edna Carnaham of Eau Claire, Wis; Christina Campbell of Appleton, Wis, and John Thomas Emerick of Waukegan, IL.

The argument on behalf of the motion was made by J.M.R. Leyeth of Carter, Ledyard and Milburn, counsel for William Vincent Astor, legatee and trustee of John Jacob Astor, Jr. and George Mittendorf of Taylor, Blanc, Capren and Marsh, counsel for the Farmers Loan and Trust Company as trustee of the estate of the second John Jacob Astor, who died at sea in the Titanic disaster.

It is alleged in the complaint that the senior Astor made Emerick a one-third partner in 1787 and that one Oct. 24, 1815, shortly before his death in 1816, Emerick made Mr. Astor a trustee of his estate for ninety years, at the end of which time the property was to be divided among the descendants of Emrick's brothers, Christopher and Valentine, John Nicholas Emerick being unmarried.

Fraudulent Conversion Charged.

The plaintiffs charge that the Astor descendants have not fulfilled the terms of the trust but have "concealed the assets of the said partnership and fraudulently converted and conveyed the same along with their property."

Mr. Leyeth argued for a dismissal of the suit on the ground that the complaint does not sustain a cause of action and that it also is barred by the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs, Mr. Leyeth recited, excuse the delay in bringing action by declaring that it was not until last April that Mrs. Edna Carnahan discovered the essential papers telling of the compact in a leather chest which had belonged to Emerick. This, he said, did not "fit in" with a statement he complaint that in 1902 a legal representative of the Astor estate had "admitted" that the Astor heirs held a "trust fund" left by Emerick which then amounted to $39,000,000 in bonds in real property.

Mr. Leyeth argued that the complaint showed no cause of action under the alleged partnership agreement. It contained the conclusions and not allegations of fact, he said.

"They must prove," Mr. Leyeth maintained, "that Emerick left no will and that none of his heirs left a will or assignment of property. The limitation bars to this suit range from eleven to eighty-four years. The defendants never heard of John Nicholas Emerick until this action was brought. If trust papers were ever executed by Mr. Astor the chances are he made an accounting. We have no means of knowing. Emerick died in 1816 and Mr. Astor in 1848. If Emerick's heirs had any claim it is reasonable to suppose they would have enforced it and if they didn't, they were negligent."

Mr. Mittendorf outlined the statues of limitations which he said barred the suit as did the rules of equity. He said there could be no joint action in behalf of the plaintiffs because "the title of each one depends upon an entirely different chain of evidence." He said that, if the suit were maintained, the Astor heirs might be subjected to an "endless series of harassing actions" and the entire Astor fortune "frittered away."

Court Differs in Argument.

Evans B. Lewis in Philadelphia, counsel for the Emerick heirs, argued that the statute of limitations was not effective where fraud and concealment are alleged. After Mr. Lewis had announced that he was in possession of a will executed by Emerick on Aug. 4, 1816, and again declared there could be no lapse of rights in case of fraud, the Court interjected;

"I'll say frankly it doesn't seem to me you can excuse laxness. Emerick said he left papers to protect his legal interests. Would you maintain you could wait 300 years and then make a demand?"

"Yes, sir. The longer the time the greater the duty. The statute of limitations only runs from the date of the discovery of fraud."

"Is it your theory," asked Judge Thacher, "that your clients are not chargeable with laxness? Emerick's estate had the paper he left. That it was not discovered by your clients is no proof their ancestors didn't know. I shall have to assume it was in their possession. If you want me to speculate, I should say that all your inferences were utterly absurd."

Calvin I. Hoy of St. Louis, also of counsel for the Emerick heirs, asserted that there could "be no laxness in asserting a right we had no reason to be aware of."

"The difficulty is," observed Judge Thacher, "that you have said nothing of laxness on the part of the plaintiff's ancestors in not proceeding. It doesn't seem to me it is enough to say that the present generation didn't know. Even if everything you say is true, it is absurd to say that Emerick's next of kin didn't know of the property. The courts were open. They could have demanded an accounting."

Decision was reserved. Judge Thacher gave counsel for the defense three weeks to file briefs and counsel for the plaintiffs two weeks more to file their answer.

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The New York Times, Friday, December 7, 1928, p. 31, Col. 2.

LOSE SUIT TO SHARE ASTOR $35,000,000.
Heirs of John N. Emerick Sought Two-Thirds of Estate of the First John Jacob.

COURT DISMISSES CLAIM.

Documents of 1815 and 1816 Recited Befriending of Astor, Then Called "Poor Boy."

The suit of the heirs of John Nicholas Emerick for two-thirds of the proceeds of the estate of John Jacob Astor Sr., founder of the Astor family and fortune in this country, was dismissed yesterday by Federal Judge Thacher. The property sued for amounted to upward of $35,000,000. Mr. Astor died March 29, 1848.

The action was based on allegations that Mr. Emerick, furrier, merchant and business associate of Stephen Girard, had befriend Mr. Astor when he was poor, taught him the business and, in 1787, made him a one-third partner and later a trustee of his estate for ninety years. Then it was to be divided among the descendants of Mr. Emerick's brothers, Christopher and Valentine. John Nicholas Emerick was a bachelor.

It was alleged that no accounting had ever been made, that the Astor descendants had failed to comply with the terms of the trust agreement, and that in 1902 a legal representative of the estate of John Jacob Astor, Sr. had admitted that there was at that time a trust fund and estate arising out of the partnership between Mr. Astor and Mr. Emerick which amounted to $39,000,000.

Delay in pressing the action was explained by the statement that some of the necessary papers, including the will dated August 4, 1816, had not been found. Later, it was said, the papers needed in the action had been found in an old leather trunk formerly owned by Emerick the merchant. This discovery was made last April.

With the complaint was filed a copy of the partnership agreement between Mr. Emerick and Mr. Astor. Another document, date Oct. 24, 1815, at Germantown, PA, explained the trust. In this document appears the statement that Mr. Astor "was a poor boy. I loan him money and teach him the business." This statement also appears; " I have made other legal papers but fearing Astor as he is not the man I thought when I made him my partner I am leaving papers in my trunk to safeguard my estate."

So many of the Emerick heirs appeared that they agreed to designate three to sign the complaint. These were eda Carnahan, John Thomas Emerick, and Christina Campbell. The defendants were Charles A. Peabody, and the Farmers Loan and Trust Company, trustees of the estate, and William Vincent Astor, a legatee and trustee of the second John Jacob Astor.

In his decision Judge Thacher said that the alleged trust was void under the laws of New York and Pennsylvania in force prior to the death of John Nicholas Emerick, which occurred Dec. 16, 1816, and that therefore neither the defendants nor any of the hundreds of other alleged heirs and descendants of Emerick was entitled to sue.

"The plaintiffs sue as heirs and descendants of Christopher and Valentine Emerick," ran the decision. "They do not claim as heirs and descendants of John Nicholas Emerick, nor does it appear who his heirs and next of kin were. To succeed they must therefore trace their title through the trusts declared by John Nicholas Emerick during his lifetime and confirmed in his will. If these trusts be void this suit must fail."

Judge Thacher said that the controlling desire of John Nicholas Emerick had been to place beyond reach of a living descendant of his two brothers any share in his estate and the futurity was thus annexed to the substance of the gift itself and postponed until after ninety years.

"It follows that upon the death of John Nicholas Emerick," the decision said, "His heirs and next of kin succeeded to his estate, including the right, if any there is, to an accounting of the property here in question, and the plaintiffs have no standing, as they do not claim under them. This conclusion results in the dismissal of the complaint with costs, and makes unneccessary the consideration of any other question."

Taylor, Blanc, Capron & Marsh appeared as attorneys of Mr. Peabody and the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company; Carter, Ledyard & Milburn appeared for Mr. Astor, and the plaintiffs were represented by Evans, Hunt & Rees of this city, Calvin I. Hoy of St. Louis, Evan B. Lewis of Philadelphia, Joseph Renard of St. Louis and Charles B. Latzgus of Camden.

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John Jacob Astor: Business Man. By Kenneth Wiggins Porter. (New York; Russell & Russell, 1966). Vol. 1, p. 45, no. 45.
"it may be well to mention the claim recently made by persons professing to be the descendants of the brothers of John Nicholas Emerick of Germantown to a share in the Astor estate, asserting that on June 20, 1789, a partnership agreement between John Nicholas Emerick and John Jacob Astor was signed, the former having a two-thirds interest in the partnership and the latter the remainder. According to another alleged document, Emerick on October 24, 1815, still describing himself as "two-thirds joint owner and partner of John Jacob Astor, "mentioned a trust fund in the hands of Astor, established for the heirs of his brother, which was to continue for ninety years and finally stated that "fearing Astor as he is not the man I thought when I made him my partner I AM LEAVING PAPERS IN MY TRUNK TO SAFEGUARD MY ESTATE."

. . . It is, of course, at least possible that Emerick and Astor were once partners, though no other evidence of that alleged fact save papers asserted to be in the hands of the plaintiffs has ever appeared. Consequently, it is too early to make any definite statement as to the alleged Emerick-Astor partnership. Nor is it necessary to point out the inconsistencies in the statement of the case given above. The above statements on this case are from the NEW YORK TIMES, May 26, 1928, p. 1 & 2, cols. 2 & 7; September 15, 1928, p. 10, col 4; December 7, 1928, p. 31, col. 2.

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Genealogy Scams

I was going through some CD’s that came with our
Family Tree Maker computer program and hit pay dirt! For example, one of the genealogy sample books was called “By the Name of EMERICH, EMERICK, EMMERICH, EMRICH, AND EMRICK.” By Kenneth D. Haines. (Mid-Atlantic Genealogies: 1340-1940 CD; Family Tree Maker, Broderband Learning Co; 1998). In the introduction, it covers the supposed lawsuit against the John Jacob Astor estate. I abtracted the above newspaper articles family members sent me about the lawsuit. Mr. Haines says the “lawsuit” against the Astor Estate is one of the oldest scams around. He mentions a group in Eau Claire, WI who were collecting Emrich family trees and gathering monies for the “lawsuit” against Astor which Hannah Ullom Warner mentions in her letter here. Supposedly her father, Alford Ullom, made up a chart to send to the group, but I have never seen a copy.

So as you research your family, beware of those get-rich-quick schemes out there. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. With the advent of the telephone and the internet, it’s easier to research the legitimacy of a thing than it was back in my great-grandfather’s day, but all the same, be careful!

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UPDATE: Today (6/24/2016), in the mail, I received a package from a cousin. Inside was some folded up printed website pages and a book. The book was called "The Little Brown Suitcase." By Carol Lynn Caswell. A link to her website and the book are below. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but appears to tell the story of John Nicholas Emerick and the Astor Affair. Many photos are included in the book of the author's family, documents, and letters. Should be an interesting read!
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More to Read:

1.)  Alford Ullom Biography
2.) Hannah's April 18, 1929 Heirship Letter
3.) Hannah Emerick Ullom's Findagrave Memorial
4.) “By the Name of EMERICH, EMERICK, EMMERICH, EMRICH, AND EMRICK.” By Kenneth D. Haines. (Mid-Atlantic Genealogies: 1340-1940 CD; Family Tree Maker, Broderband Learning Co; 1998)
5.)  John Jacob Astor's Findagrave Memorial
6.) Wikipedia article on
John Jacob & Sarah Todd Astor
7.) The Little Brown Suitcase. By Carol Lynn Caswell. 2003. (For sale here!)


2 comments:

  1. My mother, Marlin Emerick (1906-1964) and her brother Merle Emerick were born in Taylorville, Illinois. Their father was Charles Emerick and uncle was Everett Emerick; both of Illinois.

    I grew up hearing about the Astor-Emerick connection/will. I am very interested in this story and law suit. How can I learn more and be involved in this quest for justice.

    Thank you,
    Evelynn Smith

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am the great grand daughter of of Mary Rebecca Emerick, who married
    albert Ross, my great grandfather. When I was 8 years old an attorney came to my house to talk to my parents about suing for this money but they didn't take it seriously. I want to be a part of this. How do I sign in. This has been the ghost in the closet of my ancestors for as long as I remember and I want to take that ghost out.

    ReplyDelete

We welcome family related questions, comments, and additional information about this post and we will try to answer your questions in a timely fashion. Thanks for stopping by!