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.
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:
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:
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.
Here are some highlights from the 1930 depositions, about land and relationships.
I was looking through a Virginia marriage record collection on FamilySearch.org. I found this record which completely stunned me! I had no idea! I immediately began reviewing my sources, and here’s what I discovered:
This record is of James B. Jones giving his permission for Tennessee to marry Alvin Dortch. That he adopted her into his family 7 years earlier. (Typed transcription at end of post). My puzzlement and surprise is because Tennessee’s father was still alive when James said he adopter her. On the 1860 Census, Tennessee is listed as living with her father, not James B. Jones.
My grandma Catherine Sanetra wrote a memo note about 1960. She was writing notes about her letters from her uncle Jasper Dortch, notating things she wanted to follow up on. The note said, “Uncle Jimmy Jones raised Tennessee J. Glover in Burk County. Write to Burk County in VA.” She later wrote a correction note that it was Burk TN, not Virginia. I knew that James Jones wasn’t her uncle and lived his whole life in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. I also have never seen the Glovers in Burk, Tennessee. They were in Obion County, then Smith County, Tennessee. Granderson was in Gibson County, Tennessee in 1850, while the rest of his siblings and parents remained in Smith County, Tennessee. Granderson was widowed young (1850-1853), left Tennessee and moved to Mecklenburg, Virginia with his daughters. (Opposite of the typical migration pattern). I believe Granderson was born in Warren County, North Carolina and knew cousins in Mecklenburg, Virginia before he moved to Tennessee with his parents. I also knew Granderson Glover lived until his daughter Tennessee was 16, so why did/would someone else raise her? I discounted all of this information from Jasper, thinking he was probably confused. But I did wonder, because he was telling what he thought was true about his mother, who had lived with him for several years.
This is a chart showing the only connection I knew of James B. Jones & Tennessee Glover, highlighting in red the people in this post. They’re both great grandparents of Fannie Gray. I now suppose that Tennessee called James B. Jones “uncle” as a family title of respect.
I looked more closely to see what was happening to Tennessee Glover in 1859. Her father Granderson Glover was married to Arimenta Kidd. (daughter of John B. Kidd) Granderson and Arimenta’s third child was born, Oliver Glover. Tennessee later had a son she named after her two brothers: Richard Oliver Dortch. Tennessee’s family was attending Rehoboth Methodist Church in the Blackridge area. In 1855, there were two classes in Rehoboth Church. Granderson Glover was the leader of class #1. John Cole was the leader of class #2.
Granderson and Arimenta lived on Nellie Jones Rd, on land Arimenta inherited from her father. (about where Cannon Cemetery is today.) James Jones was around the corner, further north on Blackridge Rd. I checked the map, and the distance between where Granderson and James lived, is about 2.5 miles. (East on Nellie Jones Rd, then north on Blackridge Rd). So they lived near each other and probably saw each other at church and community events.
The 1860 Census shows 4 children of James B. Jones living at home. I assume all those children were also living at home the previous year. Age wise, Tennessee would have been just younger than Anna Jones and just older than the youngest child: James Newman Jones. I have a transcribed copy of the James B. Jones family Bible. Tennessee is not mentioned as adopted, or anywhere on this Bible record. However, Alginon Gray, (the man who married 2 of Tennesee’s daughters) is in the Bible, because his mother was a daughter of James B. Jones. All of Sarah Jones Gray’s children’s birth dates are noted in the James B. Jones family Bible.
I also checked guardian records for a 5 year time period. Tennessee is not in guardian records. Although that isn’t surprising because I don’t think there were any assets or finances to be recorded. Granderson Glover did not own land in Mecklenburg and he was listed as a carpenter on the Census.
Tennessee’s sister Tabitha does not have a similar notation about where she was raised on her marriage consent. Tabitha was 22, old enough to not need consent. Instead she gives her own consent. I love seeing she wrote her name as “Tabithy”. Tabitha married Edward Kidd, (sibling of Arimenta Kidd). They were married at “Mrs. Cannon’s house.” I am assuming that would be Rebecca Kidd, married to Archie Cannon. I’m also guessing this was the Cannon property with Nellie Jones Rd on the north, Great Creek (or “Cannon Creek”) to the west, and Arimenta Kidd Glover to the east. I think it’s neat to see that they married on Kidd land, where all the neighbors were the groom’s siblings!
The term orphan in this time period technically meant that one parent died. Tennessee’s mother died between 1850-1853. At the time of Tennessee’s marriage, her father Granderson had also died. The Census enumerator typically wrote down who was in the house that day in Apr 1860. Maybe Tennessee was visiting her father for a few days when the Census was recorded? Granderson had remarried, had 3 young children (& 4th child in 1861). We have no idea whether Arimenta and Tennessee (age 12) didn’t get along, or if a household full of children (Jones) sounded fun and were her friends. But we do now know that Jasper Dortch was correct after all. Tennessee did live with James Jones, he just got the location wrong, Mecklenburg, not Burk. I’m happy to now own a paragraph in my great… Grandfather’s handwriting and see his signature. I love the way he writes his letter “J” with a nice point at the top. I write my J’s very rounded at the top. I also love seeing the marriage was at James’ house, where I think she considered was home.
For more information: There are currently 2,733 images of consents, bonds, and ministers returns in this collection. Mecklenburg is not listed as counties included, but I did find quite a few of my Mecklenburg ancestors in this collection, including the images in this post. If you would like to search this collection, or learn more here’s the link:
Transcription of Tennessee’s Marriage Consent:
To the clerk of Mecklenburg County, VA
March 24th 1866
Mr R F Clack sir,
Some seven years ago I adopted into my family Tennessee J Glover an orphaned child, who has since remained a member of my family, & has grown up under my guardian care & control, and being now of marriageable age, you have my full consent to issue a marriage license for the union of, Alvin N Dortch & Miss Tennessee J Glover.