52 Documents in 52 Weeks #39: The Sole Written Record Left by a Wife

No one has any missing maiden names for female ancestors, do they? Don’t we all wish that were true? Females had few legal rights in the colonial America years and gained but a few throughout the 1800s. Basically, women had no legal rights unless (1) their fathers left property to them or (2) their husbands died and they became head of the household. Even then, rights were limited. For example, guardians – male, of course – would be appointed for minor children who were “orphaned.” That didn’t mean both parents had died, it meant their fathers had died.

What is you have a couple whose marriage record can’t be found? Dave, my husband, has lots of those because his family were attracted to burned counties like bees to honey. Or, if they weren’t living in a burned county, they moved to the frontier, where many records were either lost or never even created. A circuit rider perhaps married them and then met with disaster while crossing a river. Or some such circumstance.

What if you don’t even know the given name of a wife? Sometimes, land deeds are the only written record left by a woman. The record most likely wasn’t created because of her unless she was a widow.

There was a convenient law that was passed to protect women from being left destitute if her husband predeceased her. That law established her dower rights – her right to 1/3 of her husband’s estate. If husband and wife were both living and the husband wanted to sell a piece of land, his wife legally had to give her permission because she retained dower rights in the property. Realistically, I don’t know how many women were forced to give their consent – or else – but both husband and wife were named in the land deed as grantors. Sometimes, depending on how diligent the county clerk was, the wife was even questioned separately and apart from her husband to be sure that she was freely agreeing to the sale.

I’ve written quite a bit about Ephraim Thompson and the man I believe to be his father, Lawrence Thompson. Lawrence Thompson isn’t a very common name found in colonial America. In fact, I’ve found only 3 or 4 men of that name born around 1740-1760. Lawrence’s FAN club in Kentucky includes families from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina. That doesn’t mean he’s from any of those states, but he might be.

I didn’t even know the name of his wife or when she lived. That is, until I found a land deed indexed in Lawrence Thompson’s name in 1797, not Lawrence et. ux. (and wife).

This indenture made and concluded upon this 28th day of March
Anno Domini one thousand Seven hundred and ninety Seven
between Laurence Thompson and Anne his wife of the County
of Washington in the Commonwealth of Kentucky of the one part
and Peter Brokaw of the County of Mercer and Commonwealth
Aforesaid of the Other part Witnesseth that the said Laurence Thompson and Anne his Wife for and in Consideration of the sum of two – . . . . . . . . .

This is the only record I have found regarding Lawrence Thompson’s wife Anne. Actually, this deed provided three facts that I didn’t know before I found it.

  1. Lawrence had disappeared from the Mercer County tax rolls in 1816. He is in Washington County, Kentucky, next door, in 1820, but now I know he was living there by 1816.
  2. His wife is Anne.
  3. Anne was alive as late as 28 March 1797. She appears in no other records. Lawrence Thompson is last found on the Washington County, Kentucky tax list in 1815. He owns 145 acres of land, but there is no land deed in his name or that of Ephraim Thompson, who I believe was his son, or Thompson heirs, to be found in 1815 or afterwards. There is no will found for Lawrence Thompson, nor a probate record, nor any mention of him at all in the court minutes that might say if he died or if he had moved away. He simply disappears.

This is the one and only record I have found for Anne (MNU) Thompson. I am hoping that with his name, plus the name of his wife, I might be able to find them elsewhere – wherever they came from before Kentucky, but it is going to be time consuming because there is no Lawrence/Laurence Thompson/Thomson/Tompson in the 1790 census records.

HINT: Be sure to look at all the land deeds for your problem or elusive ancestors. The Mercer County, Kentucky land deed index gave no indication that a wife of Lawrence was one of the sellers. You might overlook the only record that gives your ancestress’s name.


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