[Editor’s note: Alicia’s probate series began here.]
Guardians were appointed for children under the age of 21 and for adults who were not able to handle their own affairs. Children over age 14 could choose their guardians. The surviving parent would usually be the first choice, but a guardian could also be a grandparent, older sibling, uncle, step-parent, etc.
In our example from the estate of Joseph Alden of Middleborough, there were no minor children, but Joseph was the administrator of his son Ebenezer’s estate. When Ebenezer died in 1773 at the age of 30, he left behind six minor children: Hannah, age 8; Orpha, 7; Polly, 6; Ruth, 5; Ebenezer, six months; and Joseph, “on the way.” Little wonder that Ebenezer’s widow, Ruth, declined administration in favor of her father-in-law. However, no guardian was appointed for these children in 1773, and since Joseph as grandfather and administrator would have had responsibility for the family, anyway, no official paperwork was thought necessary. Joseph conducted the administration of Ebenezer’s estate until his own death in 1787. The estate was declared insolvent and Joseph was given permission to sell the real estate to pay some of the debts.
In 1788, after Joseph’s death, official guardians were needed for those of Ebenezer’s children who were still minors – Ruth and Ebenezer, ages 20 and 16, chose Joshua Fobes of Bridgewater (their maternal uncle), and Joseph, 15, chose Abner Alden of Middleborough (his paternal uncle) – in order to execute the 1789 deed of the heirs of Joseph Alden mentioned in the previous installment of this series.
Adult guardianships can put a lot of human flesh on our ancestors’ bones, since they often involve depositions explaining why the person was not competent. In the case of Benjamin Faunce of Kingston, his “friends and connections” petitioned the court in 1802 stating that “for Eighteen monthes past [he] has neglected his Business, takes no Care to provide for himself or family, not a furor [furrow] plowed on his farme this year, his fences all Down … his Wife and Children have Left him and gon to her fathers who is a poor man not able to afford them any Reliefe, he is troublesum to his nighbours and a plague to himself….”
Now, who could resist the temptation to learn more about what happened to Benjamin and his family! If you find out, let me know.
 For further information on the family of Ebenezer5 Alden, see Esther Littleford Woodworth-Barnes, comp., Alicia Crane Williams, ed., Mayflower Families Through Five Generations…, Volume 16, Part 3, Family of John Alden Fifth Generation Descendants of his sons John,2 Joseph,2 and Jonathan2 (Plymouth, Mass, 2004), 247-48.
 Plymouth County Probate File, #82, copy books 21: 222, 224, 236, 360, 25: 306, 28: 99, 100, and File #84, copy books 26: 454-55. See the first installment of this series for discussion about accessing Plymouth County probate files and copy books.
 Note my error in Part 6 of this series taken from Mayflower Families, 16: 1: 380, in which I identified the guardian as their maternal grandfather, who died in 1787 – remember to verify, verify, verify!
 Plymouth County Probate File, #7499.