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:
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 asked by a descendant of Missouri Jones to help her identify which Jones line in Mecklenburg, VA was her family’s line. I thought Jane Thomas who married Edward Carroll Jones died young, but I found out this was not true after all. My search to discover Missouri’s parents led to totally unexpected results. I uncovered a divorce and several children born out of wedlock, including an African American baby. My intention is to explain what I’ve learned about Jane and her children, showing records that give various pieces of evidence. Not to judge, but rather to try to account for some children, give my interpretation of the records, and explain some possible DNA matches. Although Jane and Edward divorced 156 years ago, DNA matches might be able to give us more answers.
(Download) This chart about Jane’s relatives will help while reading this post about the various relationships. It includes Jane’s siblings and parents. The chart is formatted to 11×17 inches.
Missouri’s descendants were stuck at a huge brick wall. The brick wall they were hitting was finding more information about both George Harper and Missouri Jones’s parents. (Both families are white.) Missouri’s mother was known as Jane B. Jones. Missouri’s father was unknown, as well as Jane’s parents. The more I looked at various records, the more Missouri looked like she should be part of my Jones family! On each record, Missouri and Jane lived near my family. The more I looked at Jane, the more she looked to me like the Jane Thomas who married to Edward C Jones. But I (and other family history researchers) thought this Jane died about 1862-1864, while Edward was in a Confederate hospital or Point Lookout during the Civil War. We thought their children lived with relatives until Edward returned from the war and married Caroline(“Pink”) who raised Jane’s 3 children.
I found Jane’s death record, from the year 1915. She lived about 50 years longer than I had previously thought! Jane’s name was corrected on her death record and the mother listed looked to me like Tinsy Thomas. Which suggested to me that Jane was alive the same time Edward was married to Caroline Thomas, (Jane’s cousin). This hinted to me a divorce, rather than Jane dying young.
Virginia divorce records from this time period were kept in the circuit court records, now part of chancery records. I found this (below) on the Library of Virginia’s (LVA) website:
I could tell by the above index, that this was probably the divorce, so I went to LVA to get the case. (Hayes was only mentioned as witnessing that he served the court summons to Jane.) Edward Jones’ father, (James B. Jones), and his uncle Zachariah Jones gave the depositions. The court proceeding stated that Jane “had an affair with a Negro man”, and had a child born in Aug 1864 “born with dark skin”, to prove adultery. Jane stated she loved this baby as much as her white babies and was going to keep her baby. The man she had the affair with was not named. Neither the baby’s name nor gender was given. Only that the baby was born in August 1864. James said he had known Jane all her life and that he had seen the baby several times.
The baby would have been conceived about Nov 1863. I’m not sure legally how well the Emancipation Proclamation would have been in effect at this time and place. I have no idea if the man Jane had the affair with was a slave or free. But because the mother was white, this should mean that the baby was born free, regardless of the father’s legal status. Because the case refers to the man as “a Negro man”, rather than stating an owner’s name, my assumption is that the father of this baby was not a slave.
I cannot find any of these people involved on the 1870 Census. I don’t see Jane, or any of her children. I don’t see Edward, Caroline or their children. Caroline had previously been married to Robert Joyce who died in 1863. The children of Robert Joyce and Caroline “Pink” Thomas were wards of Robin Thomas, their grandfather. (Robin was father of Caroline Thomas). Nicholas and Flora Joyce, two of Caroline’s children were living with Robin Thomas on the 1870 Census. I have not yet found Caroline’s other two children Robert Joyce and Cornelia Joyce on the 1870 Census. I manually looked through the whole enumeration district where Jane and Edwards’s siblings lived, but could not find any of these people.
Missouri Jones was born about 1874, and she was white. Jane continued to use the surname Jones for the rest of her life. I have not yet found Missouri’s birth record, but I don’t expect to see the father listed.
This is the 1880 Census above. Jane is in Mecklenburg, next door to her sister Sarah Ellis. Missouri is the only child in the household, and Jane is listed as divorced. Jane’s baby born in Aug 1864 should be age 16. I do believe this baby lived, because I have seen a photograph with Jane, her daughter Missouri, Missouri’s husband and children, and a nicely dressed African American male teenager. The picture was not labeled, but he was in Jane’s family picture and is most likely Jane’s grandson. Does this mean Jane raised her child? Or did her grandson just visit and was in that family picture? Was Jane’s unknown child working for someone else in 1880? Or raised by someone else nearby? Was the child raised with the surname Jones? Or was the child given the surname of the family who raised him or her?
Missouri’s marriage is the second line on this marriage register for Mecklenburg. I thought this record was interesting because only mothers were listed in the parents’ space for both George Harper & Missouri Jones. Neither George nor Missouri’s father’s names were written on their marriage or death records. Below is the marriage license for Missouri. They were married at the home of Massenburg Thomas, Jane’s brother.
The 1900 Census listed Jane as widowed, instead of divorced. (Edward Jones had actually died by 1900.) Jane was living with her daughter Missouri’s family on the 1900 and 1910 Census. I believe that Jane always lived with Missouri. The 1900 Census says that Jane is the mother of 7 children, 5 living. That’s 2 more children than I can account for. Could she and Edward have had 2 babies that died young so they weren’t listed on a Census? Or were these children born after the divorce, with fathers unknown? It is possible the number was wrong on the Census, but I would have expected Jane to report less children, like only Missouri, rather than more children on the Census.
I thought Jane and Edward had two sons, James, and Richard L. But when I looked through birth records, there was no Richard. Only James R. Jones. Probably James Richard Jones. I’m not sure where the middle initial L came from, or when the first name James was dropped.
Jane had the following children:
1) James Richard L Jones b. 1856, (still alive in 1900), father was Edward C Jones, race: white
2) Martha W. Jones b. 1858 (still alive in 1900), father was Edward C. Jones, race: white
3) Sarah E Jones b. 1860 (still alive in 1900), father was Edward C Jones, race: white
4) Baby with unknown name born Aug 1864, assumed to be alive in 1900, father unknown. Father’s race: African American, Mothers race: white
5) Missouri Jones (alive in 1900), father unknown, race: white
I have searched FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com for their available birth records. Births were recorded in the 1860’s and 1870’s. I searched for any Jones born in Mecklenburg or Brunswick in the year 1864 and found nothing. I’ve searched Virginia and North Carolina state indexes, as well as manually looking through microfilms in Mecklenburg for birth records, looking for any Jones baby with a mother named Jane. There are a lot of missing pages, several years are not yet available online. I will keep checking as more records are being digitized and indexed.
Edward and Jane’s oldest child is listed as James on the 1860 Census, no Richard listed. They are listed in the dwelling located next to Jane’s sister Rhoda Pearson. Tinsy Thomas, Jane’s mother is the previous house (previous pg.), dwelling #183. Edward’s parents were also on the previous census page, dwelling #177.
I’m curious about who actually paid the court costs and I think this is a big deal. Jane was summoned to court, with a listed penalty of $100 for not showing up. Another page in the case notates that she did not show up to court, with a witness saying he did give Jane the summons. The divorce decree was issued, with the marriage dissolved 4 Apr 1866, and Jane was responsible for court costs. A hundred dollars plus court costs was an enormous amount of money then! Especially after the Confederate dollar collapsed, so many men who used to work the farms were maimed or had died, and post war economic hardships lasted for decades. I have Virginia chancery cases involving people who moved to Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas writing letters to the court asking to be excused from needing to appear in court, so they didn’t have to pay those huge fines. I have chancery cases of people losing their homes, unable to pay debts. Edward’s father, James B. Jones borrowed $255.26 in Jan 1854. He could not pay that debt back to AG Boyd & Thornton. The debt brought to chancery court was not paid until Nov 1876, 2 months after James died, when his son Charles bought the 2 properties which were 100 acres each. This debt is about what I expect Jane would have been asked to pay, about the cost of 100 acres and a house. If James could not pay this debt for 22 years, how could a newly divorced woman with a baby be expected to pay the court fine and divorce court costs?! I can totally understand Jane not wanting to appear in court. But I can’t imagine Jane would have been excused from paying these court costs when everyone was out of money and calling in their debts. So, who paid it? Janes father had already died, and her mother only lived a few years after the divorce. Nothing about payments is noted. The divorce decree is the thing written in the case. Jane didn’t own any land. She appears to be poor, living with or next door to family the rest of her life. The Census shows her as the next household to her sisters, but maybe she was actually living on her sisters’ property?
Edward Jones married Caroline in Brunswick County about 4 months after the divorce was finalized. Did he move to Brunswick to “start over” and go somewhere he wouldn’t see Jane anymore? Or did he just have a good job and place to live that happened to be in Brunswick? Edward was described on his muster roll as 5’ 7”, light complexion, dark hair, dark eyes. Edward’s muster Roll:
So, what could all this mean for DNA matches? I drafted a number of pages trying to draw out various ways to show connections, with so many arrows it became too difficult to follow. There are several cousin marriages; Several Jones and Thomas marriages; Several Thomas and Lambert marriages. Julia Kidd married Robert Massenburg Thomas, who was the brother of Jane. There are many people closely related to Jane who can show African American DNA matches. People I’ve seen with African American matches to white Kidd and Jones families are often estimated at 4-6th cousin matches. The chance that the connections are to Jane’s baby referenced in the divorce case are very high. I’m hoping this chart attached about Jane’s family (at beginning of this post) will explain some possibilities for the African American DNA matches and where the connections could be, through this child born in Aug 1864, or the other 2 unknown children for Jane.
When African Americans are looking for their white ancestor, the slave owner or the overseer might seem the assumed logical place to scrutinize first. Leonard M. Thomas and Tinsy Thomas (Jane’s parents) did have slaves. John J Drury Pearson was an overseer. But in this case, I believe the connection would be to Jane’s baby. Not because Leonard was a slave owner, but because Leonard would be the common ancestor of the match. Not through John Pearson as an overseer, but rather the connection of his wife being Jane’s sister, making the DNA match occur at Jane’s parents. Multiple cousin marriages (like Jane’s parents) can make DNA matches look closer than they actually are, because there’s more shared DNA. Here’s an example for a Pearson DNA match.
I’ve been wondering about the possibility of a family raising Jane’s baby. My impression of the boy in the family picture was that he was better off financially than Jane and Missouri. The Marks family was a free African American family who appear to have done well financially since at least the 1840’s. Elizabeth Ann Marks was a neighbor of these Jones. She was the daughter of Abel and Quintina Marks. Elizabeth married Henry Mayo who was a carpenter. Elizabeth and their children farmed the land. In 1870 Henry and Elizabeth were living on James B. Jones’s farm that was next to John Gray’s farm off Hall Rd. (James B. Jones lived on a different parcel of 100 acres off Blackridge Rd. ) Henry and Elizabeth bought the 100 acres near Hall Rd in Oct 1889 from Charles Jones (Edward’s brother), who had purchased the land to pay off his father’s debts in chancery. Tom Mayo (son of Henry and Elizabeth) inherited the land. I’m told this area is known as Mayo’s hill. Could Elizabeth and Henry have taken in Jane’s child to give the child a good name, a better life and be raised with their own children? Elizabeth would have lived near Jane and her family. Could James B. Jones have offered his farm as a place for the baby to be raised, as an offer of peace and support? If not Elizabeth, someone else with a similar situation?
The chancery case states the baby was born August 1864, but it is very possible the child was raised with a different birth date. If you are from this Marks or Mayo family and might know, please let me know. If you know anything that might help identify any of Janes’ children after her divorce, or have DNA matches to this group of people, please let me know. Jane may have used the surname Bennett for more than just the 1910 Census, even though this was actually her middle name. I assume that Jane was named after her uncle Bennett Thomas. If you have the surname Bennett and it looks like you could be part of Jane’s family please let me know. I personally have Jones DNA lines, but no Thomas DNA lines, which may help in sifting through DNA matches.
I was given a copy of some Gray family pictures so I could help ID and date them. All the other pictures in this picture group are children of John Gray and Sarah Jones. I didn’t want to share my theory before, because I didn’t want to bias anyone’s opinion. I realized I’ve now had this picture for 17 years, and not been able to find anyone who could identify this couple. So, today I’m sharing my theory with a picture comparison, in the hopes this might lead to finding a labeled copy.
My theory is: this picture is Mattie Floyd, standing behind her in-laws John Gray and Sarah Jones, about Jan 1881 in Mecklenburg, Virginia. It is possibly taken the day of Mattie and Charles’ wedding 15 Jan 1881. I’m looking for people who can confirm or dispute this theory.
The woman standing behind the couple has been identified as Mattie Floyd, daughter of Sarah Tudor and Wyatt Floyd. Mattie Floyd married Charles Gray 15 Jan 1881, at age 20. So Mattie would technically not be “Gray Family” in a Gray picture before 1881. I am curious about the book Mattie is holding. I wondered if it could be the James B. Jones family Bible, because John Gray’s children’s names were written in that Bible. But I’m told no, the Jones Bible is much larger than this book. Was Mattie a teacher? Or why else was this book important?
I do not think the couple in the picture could be Mattie’s family. I’ve seen a picture of Mattie’s father. He died in the Spotsylvania, Virginia Courthouse battle when Mattie was only 3 years old. Her mother, Sarah Tudor actually died the day Mattie and Charles Gray married. I also don’t think either Mattie or Lelia look like the older couple. My theory is this picture is to celebrate Mattie’s engagement or recent marriage. Maybe to show that she’s now a part of the family? Or could this be a wedding day picture? I assume this picture was taken in Mecklenburg, VA. Possibly at John Gray and Sarah Jones farm. In the year 1881 when Charles and Mattie married, John Gray was age 71 and blind. Sarah was age 56. People who farmed outdoors a lot, looked much older than compared to people the same age today. See example below for Fannie Gray:
Here are some pictures of the children of John Gray and Sarah Jones compared with the picture of the older couple who I theorize could be John Gray and Sarah Jones, in about 1881.
If you have a picture of any of John Gray and Sarah Jones children, or any of Sarah’s siblings you can compare it to, please let me know. Sarah was the daughter of James B. Jones and Martha Newman.