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

About Julie’s mapping project, can you help?

I’ve been mapping out (pre-1900) deeds and plats that I’ve that been finding over the past 15 years. I’m still seeking plats. Many of the plats I found are from chancery cases, where the parents died intestate and land is being divided between the heirs. I got a few plats from a plat book at the courthouse. Sometimes I go to Library of Virginia just to copy plats from chancery cases, for any people I can find in who lived in the area. The LVA chancery index notates if plats are included. Several of the plats that I found in chancery cases were the same as in the courthouse plat book, but with details that help me find a starting point to anchor the plat. I’ve also searched for plats in deeds but have not had as much success there. Any name I read about in land records gets a blue pin, with an annotation. Example “1862 Zack Jones corner hickory”. I uploaded plats into the map so they will pop up if you click on the outlined property. Annotations pop up as well, with notes I typed such as: acreage amount, date, and neighbors listed on the record. If a house or cemetery are mentioned, a house and cemetery pin are placed and marked as estimated, until we can locate and confirm it with GPS coordinates.

Dower piece of Betsey Rainey, the wife John B Kidd

When I get a plat, I study it. I ask people who are related, and are locals if they know where the land described in the plat is. Then, when I can pinpoint something mentioned in the land description (Example: a creek, or a neighboring property listed that I know it’s location), I start drawing the plat onto the map, calculating and checking acreage. For a lot of properties, you can still see old property lines on the satellite base map view. If you are looking at my map (not this screen shot below), and click on this outline, then the above plat will pop up.

I’ve been asked about the colors I use on my maps, so here’s a little about that: I made the Cemetery icon the purplish-maroon upside down T which looks to me like an upright tombstone. Churches usually have cemeteries, so if they do, I mark them the same color with a cross symbol. If the plat marked is about Jones, I add an additional pin that’s orange. Purple for Thomas. Green for Kidd. Red for Walker. Burton gets yellow. Taylor, lime green. If it’s Jones & Walker, I would drop an orange and red pin on the property. The map screen shot image above, shows a parcel with green and purple which tells me a Thomas-Kidd marriage owned that parcel. A cemetery and 2 house are also marked on the screen shot above. The green house symbol next to the Hall Cemetery is a parcel where a house was mentioned that Miles Hall lived. The house marked there (white house below) is approximately 120 years old, so it was not there in 1862.

Miles Hall House, by Hall Cemetery.
Oct 2007: Hall House by Hall Cemetery (tree far right of image)

I knew an old house would have been on that parcel, so I asked around about it at the Hall Reunion in 2018. I was shown another old house, old enough to be there at the time of the 1862 plat, and after adding that house pin by it’s GPS coordinates I saw it was on Bartlette Kidd’s property; which I believe Miles Hall bought after his brother in law Bartlette died. The colors of the pins are really just to help me in the way I visualize things. How I try to track some of the family connections: large families, large land owners, lots of cousin marriages. All the pins are listed on the far left of the map with info. There obviously aren’t hundreds of colors to color code every family name. So if they aren’t these few family surnames I wanted to track, then I mark it with blue pins for now. This week, I just added a yellow envelope (the only color it came in) symbol for Tanner’s Store. The store was a post office in the 1850’s which would also notate areas on the Census.

This will be a long term ongoing project. I’m in the process of changing the map to be in layers by time period. This map is a vital part of my efforts in finding and documenting cemeteries. If you know where I can add any pins, (for any ethnicity or any surname) please let me know.

This project is being done with Google maps, under “My Maps”. If you would like to try to create a map for your research, here is a link with info about these newer mapping abilities, such as plotting, showing acreage and the measuring tool. https://www.google.com/maps/about/mymaps/

I have an Android phone and use the free, excellent app called “GPS Essentials” to get GPS pins for this map. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mictale.gpsessentials&hl=en_US


Website info: This map is kept on this web page under the menu tab “GPS Collaborative map”, permalink: https://mecklenburgvagenealogy.com/portfolio/collaborative-map/


John Gray: his family, his land

My ancestor John Gray was born in Portadown, County Armagh, Ireland about 1810. I’ve been trying to figure out where he lived in Mecklenburg for at least 10 years. Now I know that he raised his family and farmed on Hall Rd, near Rehoboth Church, near the big curve in the road. I still haven’t found a plat, but I know I have found the area my family lived.

John’s birth year fluctuates as much as 10 years on various records. But the average record says he was born about 1810. John Gray was a linen weaver at Colonel Blacker’s estate. Large areas of Northern Ireland were going bankrupt; With warehouses full of linen, fleece and merchandise, but no one buying. Colonel Blacker wrote in his journal about these financially difficult times, the year that John Gray immigrated, in 1838. (Before the famine.) John was married to Ann Purdy, immigrated with Nicholas Purdy’s family and lived by Robert Joyce in Mecklenburg who was married to an Elizabeth Purdy. Not sure how closely they are related, but we know John was related to and lived near Purdy’s in both Ireland and Mecklenburg County, Virginia. John and his family arrived in the New York, New York port 27 Jul 1838. A year and a half later, (19 Dec 1840) he was purchasing land in Mecklenburg, VA, near Rehoboth Church in Blackridge. John remained on that same property for the rest of his life.

John Gray, his wife Ann, his daughter Elizabeth (who also immigrated with him), and a boy under the age of 5 are counted on the 1840 Census. I’m not sure who the boy is, I’ve not yet found a record for him. John’s wife Ann died sometime before 22 May 1847, when John married Sarah Elizabeth Jones. Sarah’s father James B. Jones and mother Martha Newman lived on the adjoining property.

On the 1850 Census: There’s John, his wife Sarah, daughter Martha and daughter Sarah (less than a year old). The boy from the 1840 Census is unaccounted for. John’s daughter Elizabeth was at school in Brunswick County, VA in the home of William Jones. (Not related to her step mother’s Jones family that I can see.) In 1857 Elizabeth married Washington Clary.

(This download button is for the 11×17 chart shown above)

John Gray’s children with his 2nd wife Sarah Elizabeth Jones were:

  1. Martha Ann Gray, who married William H. Moseley
  2. Sarah J. Gray, who lived to be age 16
  3. Louisa V. Gray, who married Robert J. Lynch
  4. Charles Robert Gray, who married Mattie Floyd
  5. Rebecca “Dolly” Gray, who married George C. Taylor
  6. Nannie Elizabeth Gray, who married Jimmy Kidd
  7. Frank Jones Gray, married 1) Elizabeth Clary 2) Eula Bernard
  8. *Alginon “Nonnie” Gray, married 1) Theresa India Dortch (my line), 2) Martha Dortch (sister of his first wife)
  9. Thomas Beasley Gray, married Lelia Edenbeck (half sister to Mattie Floyd. Their mother was Sarah Tudor)

These children’s births as well as Sarah Jones Gray’s birth and death date are recorded in the James B. Jones family Bible. Pictures of all of James and Sarah’s children, except Louisa, are on this site under “Gray Family Pictures”. I don’t have an exact death date for John Gray. But, he was listed as deceased when Henry Mayo bought the Jones land in 1889. After John and Sarah Gray died, their children: Martha, Louisa, Charles, Dolly, Frank and Thomas moved their families to Danville, Virginia. Alginon moved to various places as a carpenter. Only Nannie remained, which I believe is why all the siblings sold the family farm to Nannie and Jimmy Kidd.

Edwin Lambert bought the house where Nannie and Jimmy lived as a surprise for his wife Lula. When she asked him after the auction, “Who bought the house?”, Edwin told her “You did!” He bought the place where his wife grew up as a surprise for her. The other property, which is where Nannie grew up, (the Gray farm) I was unable to find out what happened until this weekend. I went to Library of Virginia to see this chancery case. They have cases from 1930, but not this case. This past week, my friend helped me find the deed. D.A. Kidd bought the land at auction and was given the deed in 1932. After several record searches, I realized DA was Adolphus Archer Kidd. The “A” was dropped on the deed. Henry Mayo’s son Tom Mayo inherited the land they purchased from James B. Jones. On the 1940 Census, I see Tom Mayo and Adolphus Kidd were neighbors and living on Hall Rd. (The Rt 620 in the far left margin). Dolphus who bought the Gray Farm was a first cousin to Jimmy Kidd (grandsons of John B. Kidd). Adolphus was son of Allen Burl Kidd. Jimmy was son of Bartlett Kidd.