What is a chancery? Kidd land example

I love the genealogical treasures you can find in chancery cases! In this post, I’ll try to explain what a chancery case is, and how they help me with family history; using the chancery of Jimmy Kidd’s estate as an example. Chancery records are not “beginner genealogy”, but it’s so worth it to learn more about these records because they tell us: women’s maiden names, when people died, relationships stated under oath, depositions about how people are related or how they know the plaintiff or defendant, copies of wills, copies of plats, etc. It depends on the type of complaint in the chancery case how much of that is included. In Virginia, all chancery cases before 1930 were sent to LVA (Library of Virginia), also before 1930, divorce cases (which were part of the circuit court) were sent to LVA, and are part of the chancery collection. LVA has an amazing searchable index which is available online. You can search by county for plaintiff, defendant, or just surname(which includes “other”, like a witness). I always search “surname” which includes searches for all 3 categories (see image below). When I first started researching my Virginia ancestors, I was disappointed that my family didn’t have any wills. But then I discovered that because they didn’t have wills, their estates were divided in chancery, with much more information in the chancery case than a will would have contained. Chancery records are some of the best proof I know for family links, especially if you are researching Taylors & Jones.

The LVA site says “There are over 272,000 cases indexed in the database and nearly 11 million images of chancery causes available online.” Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties have not yet been digitized, so I go to the actual LVA to see the originals. Orange county has them microfilmed, so I view those microfilms at LVA. Madison County has them digitized. You can scan through the folder and view the whole case on the LVA website. The search results will tell you about the case, the surnames in the case, and the format so you will know how you can view it.

There are several parts to a chancery case. The genealogical information is usually in the bill of complaint and answer. There’s also the judge’s answer (decision). If the complaint is that a will is not being fulfilled, the will is usually included. If the complaint is that a person died without a will and has land to be divided between heirs, a plat may be ordered and land divided. If someone promised to free their slaves at death and the slaves aren’t freed, there may be written proof and probably depositions of people saying they were told by their friend (or brother etc) that the slaves were to be freed. Other reasons for cases I have seen include: debts or bonds signed, secured with land, but the debt has not been paid by the promised date. The judge would then order the land to be sold to pay the debt. I also have seen debts involving slaves, owners loaning their slaves to build houses, harvest crops etc and charging fees with interest, that the other person could not pay by the due date. Large chancery cases are often full of receipts of people paying debts in payments or receiving payments. After the civil war, many people went to chancery court, because they had no money to pay their debts, or executors could not fulfill the will anymore. This is a link to an LVA document which explains chancery cases in detail. Page 3 gives more detail about the parts of a case. https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/rn22_chancery.pdf

There are over 272,000 cases indexed in the database and nearly 11 million images of chancery causes available online.

Library of Virginia

The legal language of chancery cases can get confusing. I bought a Barron’s dictionary of legal terms (written for non-lawyers) to help me better understand what some of the more complex cases I copied mean. One thing that confused me when I first started, was why a sibling was suing all his other siblings, yet asking for equal inheritance for himself and all his siblings?! He wasn’t actually suing as we might think of today, but rather this was the legal language used to get the case into court so they could equally receive their inheritance.

What is the difference between a chancery court and other courts? One big difference is that in chancery, a judge decides the result, not a jury. One observation I have is that cases usually involve money, property or land. LVA has a great write up about that as well, here is their explanation: https://www.virginiamemory.com/collections/chancery/faq

Example of Jimmy Kidd chancery case:

I did not know this land was in chancery until a friend found this newspaper article for me. This includes 2 pieces of land owned by Jimmy Kidd and his wife Nannie Gray. I knew that one of these farms was John Gray’s old farm. The other was the farm where Nannie & Jimmy lived. I did not see this chancery case in the LVA chancery index. I took this newspaper article to the LVA archivists and they told me they did not have this case. This is right about the time courthouses were sending older cases to LVA but keeping current cases. I went to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and they did have it! And it was all typed!

This was a rather large case which included lots of documenting receipts. I copied the complaint, answer and depositions, which are in this file that you can download here. Everything in the chancery was typed, but there was one handwritten page by Ewing Kidd (TE Kidd, Thomas Ewing Kidd), so I copied that as well. The case was still folded & held together in legal folders with clips, so they aren’t all copied straight and even. Here are the pages I copied, if you’d like to view the case:

Chart to go with chancery case. Formatted to legal size 8.5×14

Scanned copy of Jimmy’s will at the courthouse

This chancery case gives a typed copy of Jimmy Kidd’s will, which says he leaves everything to his wife Nannie, then after she dies, the estate is to be equally divided between his children. This chancery case was filed because the heirs didn’t feel the two properties could be divided equally between 8 children. Depositions were taken of neighbors, asking if they felt the land could be divided equally, or if the land should be sold and the money divided equally between the 8 heirs. One important note is that Benjamin Bart Kidd died in 1925, before this case began. So his share was to be divided between his 3 children. Bart’s widow had remarried and she now went by the name of Bettie Johnson. This map shows the two pieces of land in the chancery case, letter A & letter B. The men who gave depositions are also noted with their names on their property locations. Note: Edwin Lambert would have lived above his store at old Bracey, just a little to the west of where this map cuts off.

The judge decided to sell the 2 parcels and divide the receipts of the sale between the heirs. Edwin Lambert bought parcel A, the farm his wife grew up on. Adolphus Kidd bought parcel B, which used to be the Gray farm.

map to go with depositions

Here are some highlights from the 1930 depositions, about land and relationships.

signatures of Bart Kidd & Alma’s children
1935 signature of Bettie, the widow of Benjamin Bart Kidd
Ewing Kidd’s handwriting

Seeking Cemeteries Without Tombstones

Many people today, assume that a cemetery in rural Virginia without tombstones must be a slave cemetery. But this is a misunderstanding. Most people could barely afford to feed their families and pay their mortgages. The cost of a tombstone could not even be a priority and was not considered a practical use of money, which was scarce. Can you learn anything about a cemetery without any tombstones? At first glance, the answer might seem to be “no”. But I have discovered there are actually some helpful things that can be learned, especially with some newer technology things I’ve been trying with mapping and GPS. The majority of my ancestors in Mecklenburg County, Virginia did not have tombstones. Burials at churches (or with tombstones) did not really start for my family before World War I; often not that common until after World War II when the economy started improving. Tombstones were often put up much later by descendants, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Daughters of the Revolution. I talked to Stephen Lambert Jr & Sr in August 2004 about the cemetery with Nellie Brooks and Frederick Jones. Lambert descendants knew which burial plot was Nellie’s and which was Frederick’s because of a drawing of the cemetery that used to be kept in the Family Bible. The tombstones were placed there about the early 1960’s, approximately 145 years after Frederick died.

Tombstone of Frederick Jones

When I first started visiting Mecklenburg, in January 2003, I printed every tombstone picture I took and put it in a photo album. Of course I was teased about that. But I wanted the few stones I found to be in a book, so that each time I visited, I could show my book to people and ask questions; about the person, where they lived, who were they related to etc. Some pictures, relatives didn’t know a headstone had been put up until they saw my book. When they saw the cemetery as a young child, it was just field stones. Each visit to Mecklenburg, I’ve asked everyone if they knew about family cemeteries. I also visited whatever I could find marked on USGS topographical maps. I have discovered many long forgotten cemeteries with a lot of help from people who live there.

Julie’s Mecklenburg map

The maroon colored upside down letter “T” is the symbol I use on my map for cemeteries. I thought the symbol looked closest to a tombstone. The churches are a marked by a cross, same color if there’s a cemetery there. Each cemetery symbol on this screen shot above, I have personally visited and taken GPS coordinates; except for one, which we are still trying to find. That cemetery is marked based on an old phone interview I did, and notated on the map as an “estimate pin”. The cemetery next to the red letter “J” is where Frederick Jones & Nellie Brooks are buried. A “Jones cemetery”, and the person Nellie Jones Road is named after. None of these cemeteries are visible from the road. Many cemeteries are in areas that haven’t been farmed for at least 20 years, so there are often many briars, small trees and brush to get through. I visit Mecklenburg more frequently in the winter to look for cemeteries.

Lower plat of John B. Kidd

This is John B. Kidd’s lower plat, south of Nellie Jones Rd. I drew this plat onto my map, (see screen shot above) so that when I get GPS pins, I can see which property the cemetery used to belong to. This summer (2019), I went to a cemetery relatively close to old Robert Joyce, Kidd and Cannon lands. I took a picture with GPS coordinates (an app on my phone), typed those coordinates into the map, and saw that this cemetery is on land which John B. Kidd gave to his daughter Julia Kidd, who was married to Robert Massenburg Thomas. Does this cemetery date back earlier than when John B. Kidd owned it? Are John or Julia buried there? I have no idea, and I don’t know anyone who can tell me any old family stories about this land. There were fence posts and a fence still visible in some places. This cemetery was marked on the map above with a red “T” on it, for Thomas.

These are 2 GPS pictures I took of this cemetery with what we estimate to be about 45 graves. Some places we could see head and foot markers for 6 burials in a row. I only found this cemetery because someone knew about it, knew I was asking about cemeteries and took me to see it. There were rocks (field stones) marking head and foot areas. Some land depressions. No names or carved information anywhere.

What can a cemetery without tombstones tell us? If there was a family of 12 children, but only 3 burials, I know I haven’t found the whole family yet. If John B. Kidd had 7 parcels in this plat south of Nellie Jones Rd which he gave to his children, but I have only found cemeteries on 3 parcels then I expect to find cemeteries on 4 other parcels. Cemeteries found at 1-Julia, 2-Arimenta & 3-Bartlette’s parcels (Frederick Jones was buried on what later became Bartlette Kidd’s parcel) If I get a GPS coordinate and don’t know who used to live there pre-1900, then I start looking through deeds. If I go look up the deed of John and Julia, I might find mention of a cemetery. If I hear about a cemetery of field stones, I want to see if possibly any descendants added tombstones or heard anything. I have found mentions of cemeteries, in both deeds and chancery cases. Twice I’ve seen someone buried in the cemetery mentioned by name in the land record. One cemetery I’m trying to find mentions an acre lot for the cemetery in a deed, which is larger than any of the cemeteries I’ve visited so far. I have only heard reference to one slave cemetery, because the man’s mother showed him where it was, to protect it. That’s another cemetery I hope to visit soon. If you know of any cemeteries, whether marked or unmarked, please let me know.

Two field stones

**Site info: I have put a link to this post under the cemetery section near the top of the website. I will write posts to tell what I know about each cemetery I have visited, and include any charts I made to try to trace land history, family relationships or anything else relevant to each cemetery lot.

***If you are looking for cemeteries in Brunswick County Virginia, check out this site (also listed under sites I recommend): http://www.brunswickcemeteries.org/HTML/home.htm