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Breaking brick walls: child not named in father’s will

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We get a lot of genealogy questions sent to the Government & Heritage Library. Most of them are patrons asking for look ups in our books, which is very straight forward, but sometimes they are asking for help with a difficult problem, also known as a brick wall in genealogy lingo. I like to use those type of questions for blog posts in the hope they help other researchers with similar problems.

A fairly common problem is how to connect a father and child when the child is not named in his father’s will, or in some cases the father never left a will. The best suggestion I have is to look at the county court records

Occasionally, children, especially sons, are not listed in wills because they already received their share of their inheritance, usually in the form of land and sometimes, before 1865, in form of division of slaves. Because of this, land records can be extremely useful. So why am I recommending court records? With the exception of counties where court records or missing or burned, you’ll find that those land records first went through the courts. Not only land records, but apprenticeships, bastardy bonds, orphans and guardians, and wills and estates. In essence, everything went through the courts – wills were proved in court, deeds were proved in court, apprentice bonds and bastardy bonds were ordered in court, guardian accounts were initiated in court, and administrators of wills and estates had to answer to the court.

An example of how court records can help comes from Granville County court minutes, September court term of1790. Philip Hunt Spears had died (the record gives no date of death). His wife Penny, who at some point after becoming a widow, married Samuel Hays, wanted her share of her dower rights. The court ordered men to lay off, meaning to measure off, 1/3rd of the land along Long Creek that was owned by Philip Hunt Spears. In the same record, it states that John Spears was made guardian of James Hunt Spears and Patsey Spears, orphans of Phillip Hunt. In just one record, you see almost an entire family right there. Philip and Penny may have had more children and the record doesn’t say how John is related, but you see a husband, wife, and 2 children. [Source: Court Minutes of Granville County, 1746-1820. Page 90. ]

Come on and visit us at the Government & Heritage Library. We have county court abstracts for many counties in North Carolina.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for taking time to write this such an informative post. I appreciate your post.

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