52 Documents in 52 Weeks #50: Loose Records? What Are They?

I don’t know about you, but I think of the law and court houses as a process of orderly recording of proceedings and the paper documents that are created through them.

For the most part, that is true, but did you know that court houses often have “loose records,” which might be in boxes, file cabinets and other sundry locations? I was totally unaware of loose records until I read a copy of a will in a Roane County, Tennessee genealogical newsletter years ago.

What are these loose records? Well, they are (1) documents for which filing fees might not have been paid (2) documents which should have been recorded and filed, but for whatever reason were not (3) documents which were delivered to the court house, but were ordered to NOT be recorded by a judge or, in the case of Charles Williams, his will became part of a Chancery Court lawsuit in Roane County even though he died in Morgan County.

I, for one, am quite thankful that loose records exist because the will I came across was a treasure. Charles Williams, son of Samuel Williams of Cumberland County, Virginia, died in Morgan County, Tennessee in 1825. Sorting out the Williams marriages and kin in that era was made considerably easier because of this will.

Charles, brothers and assorted cousins migrated to Tennessee by 1805, settling in Roane County. However, in 1817, Morgan County was formed from Roane. Charles lived in the section that became Morgan County while his brothers lived in the section that remained in Roane County.

Morgan County lost most of its records in an 1862 fire. Charles Williams’ will burned with the other documents. However, for some reason, someone delivered a copy of Charles’s will to the Roane County Court House. Perhaps it was because he once lived in the county and there might have been a question as to whether all of his land was in Morgan County or if it was divided into both counties. Maybe it was because his brothers lived in Roane County. I don’t know. However, I do know that his will was never formally recorded in the Roane County probate records. It was tossed into the “loose records” box or whatever they were using at the time.

In the name of God Amen, I Charles Williams of the Count of Morgan and the State of Tennessee being weak in body but of sound mind and disposing memory do constitute and order this my last Will and testiment in manner & form as follows, first calling to mind that it is appointed unto man once to die, I Give my soul to God and my flesh unto the dirt from which it came. My estate which it has pleased God to Bless me with – first item, I leave my wife Elizabeth Williams all my estate real and personal during her natural life or widowhood, with some exceptions. Item – I give my son William C. Williams a horse out of my estate worth forth dollars when he shall arrive at age of twenty one years, Also my son Charles G. Williams to have a horse worth forth dollars when he shall arrive at the age of Twenty one years. My desire is that my daughter Malinda Williams to have a horse worth forth and woman’s saddle worth Eighteen dollars as soon as convenient not exceeding twelve months – I Leave my son Reuben Williams one hundred dollars which he is to have out of my estate any time when convenient, between this and the twenty fifth day of December on thousand eight hundred & twenty nine, which hundred dollars is to be deducted of his part at the death of my wife Elizabeth Williams, my further will and desire is that at the death of my wife my Mulatto Girl charity be free from slavery, and my wish is that some of my children become her security for her good behavior as the law directs if her conduct merits it. My desire is that at the death of my wife Elizabeth Williams the rest & residue of my estate be equally divided amongst all my children that is to say Reuben Williams, Mary Cobb, Susannah Stephens, Amanda Davis, William Williams, Charles G. Williams and Malinda Williams. I hereby constitute & appoint my son Reuben Williams and Shadarach Stephens my Executors to this my last will and testament, in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this third day of August 1825.

Charles Williams

Signed sealed and delivered in presence of
John M. Davis & Robt. Williams

State of Tennessee

Morgan County    I Edmund G. Kingston Clerk of the County Court of the aforesaid County, by my deputy Thomas S. Lea certify the foregoing is a true Copy of Charles Williams will as appears of record in my office. Witness my hand at office this 22nd day of February 1837.
Edmund Kingston, Clerk
By his deputy Thomas S. Lea

Did you know about the existence of loose records? If not, consider contacting the court house to find out if they, too, have them.

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