The final phase of Robert and Fanny Gunyon’s story — in which Margaret also played a role — was the most dramatic and most complex.
Deaths and Wills of Robert and Fanny Gunyon
Forest Home Cemetery gravestones show that Robert and Fanny Gunyon both died in 1892. Reports in newspapers and legal journals about the complex legal cases involving their wills provide insights on Robert’s and Fanny’s deaths, and Margaret’s ancestry.
“Robert Gunyon, the testator, made a will February 10, 1892, and died within a few days thereafter, and… his will was duly probated April 12, 1892, in the county court of Milwaukee county. He left surviving him a widow and no children,” according to American and English Corporation Cases: A Collection of All Corporation Cases… Decided in the Courts of Last Resort in the United States, England, and Canada [1883-1894]. The volume also states that, after certain specific bequests, his property was to be “given and bequeathed to 15 relatives, whose names are given, share and share alike.”
The entry concerns a lawsuit by the Milwaukee Protestant Home for the Aged, seeking to have the executors turn over certain real estate willed to the home. The “residuary legatees answered, alleging that the devise to the appellant was void because made less than three months prior to the testator’s death.”
In Wisconsin Reports: Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Volume 85, we learn that Robert Gunyon died four days after making his will, thus February 14, 1892. He did not make specific provision for wife Fanny in his first will, because both of them were “ill unto death” and he assumed she would not survive him. He also made a nuncupative will upon learning that Fanny was getting her health back.
Fanny indeed rallied and appeared on the way to recovery, according to newspaper articles on the legal tangle over the wills. Thus she used the option provided by law to obtain her portion of his estate, on 25 Feb 1892. She made her will, but then died on 3 March 1892.
Margaret’s husband John Church was one of the executors of Robert Gunyon’s estate. But it was Margaret Church who had to go to court to fight having Fanny Gunyon’s will admitted into probate, in order to ensure that it was the instructions in Robert Gunyon’s will that determined the distribution of his estate.
Complicated Case in Probate Court
In March 1892, articles appeared in numerous Midwest newspapers about the Gunyon wills.
The Chicago Tribune carried an article headlined “Bad Tangle Over the Gunyon Wills” on March 13, 1892, page 11. It stated: “The litigation over the probating of the two wills made respectively by the late Robert Gunyon and his wife Fanny, whereby it is sought to dispose of an estate of $100,000 to separate sets of beneficiaries, promises to be one of the most complicated cases in the annals of the Probate Court in this county.” It added that the notice to contest the wife’s will is signed by Mrs. Margaret Church “who sets forth that she is his [Robert Gunyon’s] niece and heir-at-law.”
On the same day, The Inter Ocean newspaper from Chicago, Illinois, carried an article on the contested wills on page 3. It noted a “protest against the admission of the will of Fannie Gunyon to probate was filed in the Probate Court this afternoon by Mrs. Margaret Church. Mrs. Church says she is one of the children of Ann Craven Legard, deceased, who was a sister of Fanny Gunyon, wife of Robert Gunyon, and that she (Margaret Church) was the legally adopted child of Robert and Fanny Gunyon, both deceased.” The estate is valued at $65,000.
On March 12, 1892, the Milwaukee Journal published the same news under the following headline and subheads: “Fighting for Big Estate / Objections Made to the Probate of Mrs. Gunyon’s Will / Two Wills and Both Contested.” Margaret’s explanation that she is the daughter of Ann (Craven) Legard, sister of Fanny (Craven) Gunyon and the adopted daughter of Robert and Fanny is again explained. A summary of the “peculiarly interesting” details of the matter of how their wills were written was described.
The Legal Contest Concluded and Aftermath
The final outcomes of all aspects of these legal contests is beyond the scope of this genealogy article. We can report that the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its January 1894 term did rule that Robert’s bequest or devise to the Milwaukee Protestant Home for the Aged was void because it was made less than three months prior to his death.
More important for our story, the various legal and newspaper articles cited make clear the ancestry of Margaret Legard Gunyon Church. Our research is confirmed.
Following these court cases, Maggie and John had their sixth child, son Edgar Benjamin Church, on 18 March 1894. They lost their daughter Harriet Margaret Church on 29 May 1896. Maggie died in July 1909. Husband John Benjamin Church died on 25 June 1911. Maggie and John are buried at Forest Home Cemetery near Robert and Fanny Gunyon.
Author’s Note on Benjamin Church, Milwaukee Pioneer
Benjamin Church, a native of Ulster County, New York, arrived in Milwaukee in 1835. He was a well known pioneer carpenter and builder in the young city. He is the author’s 3rd-great-grandfather through his daughter Ann Maria [Hannah M.] who married Sherman Abernethy Bradley, a native of Connecticut. John Benjamin Church, husband of Margaret Legard Gunyon, was Ann Maria’s youngest brother.
Queries from from Stephanie Legard asking about the link between the Legard family of Barnsley and Wakefield, Yorkshire, England and the Church family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Her Legard genealogy traces to Margaret Legard Gunyon Church’s brother William W. Legard (wife Amelia); their son Frank (wife Elizabeth); and their son Leonard who married Ellen Wyman, Stephanie’s grandmother.
Correspondence with Allan Green, genealogist, who lived in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England at the time the research for this article was done in February 2015.
Various UK and US census records, ship’s passenger logs, city directories and Milwaukee history books found on Ancestry.com.
“Judge Derek Mosley’s 160-Year-Old Home: The municipal judge’s home is unique — just one of just 38 in town built before the Civil War,” by Michael Horne.
“Lisbon Plank Road History”
“Barnsley” – West Riding, Yorkshire, England
“Wakefield” – West Riding, Yorkshire, England
“Fighting for A Big Estate / Objections Made to the Probate of Mrs. Gunyon’s Will / Two Wills and Both Contested,” Milwaukee Journal, March 12, 1892.
“Bad Tangle Over the Gunyon Wills,” Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1892, page 11, article with dateline Milwaukee, Wis. March 12
MILWAUKEE MATTERS. “Wills contested” article… in The Inter Ocean from Chicago, Illinois, Page 3, Sunday, March 13, 1892, dateline Milwaukee, Wis., March 12
And legal journals covering the lawsuits surrounding the wills of Robert and Fanny Gunyon including Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, Volume 87, Callaghan, 1894.
Fourth and final part of an article completed in February 2015.
See Part One and Part Two and Part Three
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