I have written and spoken many times about researching the family members for all hints. As we are looking for specific ancestors, we often find clues in other family documents. This week I want to look at some Courthouse examples.
Want might we learn from Deeds?
Let’s say you are looking for proof of a man you believe has a daughter Susan who married a James M. Turner. As you read a land deed you see where your ancestor’s property borders “his son-in-law James M. Turner”. You now have found your second validation. We so often overlook the description of the property and who the neighbors are.
I have seen many times in both North and South Carolina land records, where they list some of the histories of the property which might include a relative by name. It may also list a previous owner as a grandparent or father-in-law.
What might we find in estate records?
I already wrote about a case where we learn the names of the adult children and the daughter’s husbands in the estate records. But there can sometimes be many other things we can learn from estates.
Often the Last Will & Testament may state that a bequeathal is made for the offspring of a deceased son or daughter. I have also seen where the husband of a childless couple leaves everything to his wife and his wife in turn left everything to nephews and nieces. While many may believe that particular couple had several children in the early 1700s, it would have been against the statutes for the father to give his wife everything and neglect a son. While he might be able to ignore a daughter, the eldest son by most laws entitled him to no less than one-third of the estate and at times more.
Again, as I have written in the past, if the estate is open for several years you may learn who has died, married, remarried, and additional grandchildren. Never neglect researching every aspect of the estate.
When the executor or executrix (or administrator) is challenged can be enlightening where it states specific reasons.
What about Colonial and early American Courts?
Reading the historic Court Minute Book can show us many things about our ancestors. Did you know that it was illegal in many places to absent yourself from the Parish Church? If you were a poor mother with underage children and no husband, the courts may step in and take your children and apprentice them out to some other family. Maybe not even a part of the same family.
Even in colonial times, we were a litigious society and you may find that your ancestor was either suing someone else or being the defendant in a lawsuit. We often see roads being petitioned, laid out, and men assigned to build them, and your ancestor might be among those listed or whose property is named. This is another place you might find familial relationships.
If your ancestor ran an Inn or a Tavern they required a license and a bond and it was recorded in the order book. These were eventually moved to other courts. Also, marriage Bonds were recorded in the courts whereas marriage Banns were recorded mainly in the churches.
Don’t forget the taxes
Be sure to look for any property tax and remember, it was not just on land. They were taxed on livestock and certain property. If confused by persons with the same name use the militia districts as the tax records should align with the census records.