Dunbar Real Estate Moguls

Let’s dispel the notion that Adriano and Custode were poor Italian immigrants, once and for all. True – they may not have come over with much but once they settled in Dunbar PA in the early 1900s they were buying and selling property like you wouldn’t believe!

Last July Rick and I stopped at the Uniontown Courthouse to check a few of the Deed Books to get more information on the properties that were mentioned in the 1912 lawsuit. As so often happens with our genealogy research efforts we arrived when the clerk who could help with the copier was on her one hour lunch break and we were only planning to be there about an hour.

Rick took pictures of some but not all of the relevant documents.

This deed is from February 24, 1912 when Adriano forced Custode to sign over all of the property that had been in her name or in both of their names to him. Her testimony about that event is transcribed below. This comes from a transcript of her testimony given in Case #671 in Equity in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, which began in June 1912.

Preceding the quoted testimony below, there are a series of questions posed by John Duggan, Jr., Custode’s attorney, to describe her circumstances. With Adriano gone and the creditors of the store pursuing legal action to be paid their due, the ability to collect rental income from the properties was likely to be Custode’s only way to support her family.

In the testimony leading up to this, Custode describes living above the store and renting out the three properties. I think one of these properties is the house on Connellsville Avenue that she moved to and another is probably the one that Philomena lived in, but at the time of this testimony, she did not live in any of the three houses.

Q. Who has that property now?

A. Andy George

Q. How long has he owned it?

A. Three or four months ago.

Q. State the circumstances under which you deeded your interest in the property to Andy George.

A. That was the way he wanted it.

Q. Did you agree to do it?

A. No, by force.

Q. What, if anything, did he do?

A. He kept after me for a long time and threatened to kill me if I did not transfer the property to him.

Q. Is that true of both properties?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And are all the properties now in the name of your husband, Andy George?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And you have no interest in them at all?

A. No sir.

Q. How long before he deserted you did you sign the deeds for the transfer of the property if you remember.

A. The latter part of April.

Q. And were you actually afraid that he was going to do you some harm in case you did not sign the deeds?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And that was the reason you signed them?

A. Yes sir.

Q. Do you live in one of the properties, Mrs. George?

A. No sir.

Q.. Are they all rented?

A. Yes sir.

The testimony reveals that they collected about $31 a month in rent from the three houses and that they got the money to buy the houses from the store which they had operated since 1904. It looks like Custode continued to run the store, at least through the summer but at that point the creditors must have shut things down. This testimony was given in the morning session of court on September 7, 1912.

Q. What means of support have you for yourself and your children at present?

A. Until a few days ago I was running a store, now I have no means at all.

Q. Was that the same store that she and Mr. George were running prior to his desertion?

A. Yes sir.

It sounds like a horrible story of neglect and abandonment, and it probably is, but there is one little detail from the Deed Book copied above that somehow did not make it into the court testimony. If you can zoom in on the deed book on the left hand page, in the last indented line before it returns to a full page, you will see that Andy George paid Custode George $3,500 for the properties he “forced” her to sign over to him.

It is true that in real estate documents “consideration” is always referenced, even if no money changes hands, but that is usually a nominal amount, $1 or maybe $10 – but to reference payment of $3,500 for three lots (which amount is very close to the amounts Custode mentioned in her testimony as what she paid for them in 1909) strongly suggests that real money changed hands.

Things just get more and more curious with every document I re-examine. I’ve got all sorts of theories about this but I need to read a few more deeds to follow the money trail.

 

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3 thoughts on “Dunbar Real Estate Moguls

  1. How slick was Grandma George!! Adriano was not there to rebut her version of the transaction so she put forth the story that was to her advantage. Her attorney, Mr. Duggan, chose to either believe his client or overlook the $3500. Of course, we don’t have all the details yet but my money is on Kalen getting them. Grandma George continues to amaze me. She’s was so cool!

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      • I have no idea how they determined the price of $3,500; what she did with the money (except for $150 which she used to buy property in the borough of New Haven in Fayette County in her own name in March 1912!) or why Adriano was willing to pay her. I’m letting the various theories percolate while I clean house!

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