What is your preferred online search method for searching genealogy records? Do you enter a person’s name in the search box and stop there? If yes, then you are missing out on a world of great resources.
One of my favorite record sets is the minutes of a chancery court session. Chancery courts heard non-criminal complaints at the county or regional level. Family disputes were taken to chancery courts for decisions and those arguments were most often based on estate distributions and property ownership.
How do you find chancery court records? FamilySearch is a great starting place. Instead of entering a person’s name on the search tab, scroll down the menu tab to CATALOG and enter a place (state and county) name. Next, scroll the records for that county and look at Court Records. Look for Chancery Court records. Many of those early records have been digitized, BUT the book indexes, if they exist, are often incomplete.
You will need to browse and read page by page, but I promise, it is well worth your time if you find mentions of your ancestor’s family.
Here is a not-so-uncommon example of the kind of details to be found in these lawsuits:
While chasing BSOs , in the form of the Roane County, Tennessee Chancery Court Records, 1824-1845, FHL Film 008479252, I was distracted by the lawsuit of the heirs of James Wylie who died in January 1772 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, leaving a last will and testament detailing a sizable estate.
First, let me say that the Wylie family is not related to my husband’s family in any way and I can’t add to the details posted here, but I wanted to share this information for a couple of reasons.
1. This record set has a minimal index at the front of 668 pages of images (with 2 pages in each image!). Most of the entries in this digitized film are NOT indexed. I’ve said before that it is well worth the time to read court records page by page because they contain a wealth of information probably not found elsewhere.
2. There are descendants of James Wylie today. He is found on the FamilySearch family tree and there are online trees for him on Ancestry. However, most of the trees have as their single source an Ancestry tree and only name one or two of his nine documented children! James’s wife has been collapsed into one person by combining her and her daughter.
James Wylie’s entry in the FamilySearch tree alluded to this lawsuit, but didn’t give details and failed to post James’s widow’s second marriage and three additional children, all named in the lawsuit.
The chancery court lawsuit is one of the first cases heard by the Eastern Tennessee court in 1825. There are 22 (!!!!) pages of notes recorded by the clerk of the court, including the will of James Wylie, receipts signed by various relatives in the 1700s, estate inventories and more.
Because the record is so long, I am not posting any of the images here. However, anyone who is interested should begin with Image #12 in the above cited FHL film, viewable from home.
This is another example of many people with some of the same family information, but none of whom appear to have done any original research for themselves. They are missing out big time!
To illustrate what descendants are overlooking, I took some notes. James mentioned his eight children by name, plus the unborn child his wife Martha was expecting. In his will, James also mentions “until his children come of age” several times, but then gives land to his sons. It’s impossible to determine how many children are minors from the wording. Only Harris is identified as the youngest child.
Here are further details not in the will, but included in the lawsuit filed by they surviving children of James Wylie and heard by the chancery court in June 1825:
James’s children were (Birth years estimated between 21 year old John and 2 year old Harris, their ages when James died):
1. John, eldest & 21 years old when his father died, so born c1751. John died within a year or two of his father, c1773
2. Thomas, next oldest child, born c1754, also died with a year or two of his father, c1773
3. James, born c1757, brought the lawsuit
4. Margaret, born c1759; married James Hall; lives in Blount County, TN
5. Robert, born c1761, died “10-12 years ago”, Greene County, TN; married Dorcas, who was party to the lawsuit
6. Jane, born c1764, married as a minor to Francis McCall; he died a few years before in western Tennessee; Jane then went to Mississippi
7. Martha, born c1766, married as a minor to Henry Miller. He died in August 1819, Roane County, Tennessee.
8. Harris McKinley; born c1769 (noted as 2 years old when his father died), currently living in Alabama
9. The last child, born 1772, died in infancy.
Further, a year or two after James Wylie died, Martha married (2) David Miller. They had three children:
- Andrew, died with no descendants
- Elizabeth who married Thomas Taylor. Both died before the lawsuit but had “numerous” children.
- Isabella who married Baldwin Harle of Jefferson County, Tennessee
David and Martha Miller lived on James Wylie’s plantation in Mecklenburg County until about 1776. They removed to Botetourt County, Virginia, then about 1780/1 to Washington County, Tennessee and, finally, to Blount County, Tennessee.
Martha died c1814 and David died intestate in March 1819.
James Wylie, in his complaint, reasoned that the American Revolution disrupted court activities in North Carolina, his father’s heirs except for John were all minors when he died, property that should have gone to the heirs was sold off by David Miller during his lifetime and, finally, James repeatedly asked his mother and stepfather to make good on the legacies due to James’s children, but they replied they wanted to leave out their last years in comfort.
Defendant Baldwin Harle’s reply to the Wylie complaint was that not all the heirs were named in the complaint and while he knew nothing of how David and Martha Miller handled the estate of James Wylie, 54 years later was too late to come looking for an inheritance when James Jr. hadn’t held his mother or stepfather accountable during their lifetimes.
The chancery court agreed with Baldwin Harle and dismissed the complaint.
In summary, not only is a huge amount of information documented about the Wylie family, but a myriad of new places are mentioned where further records about the family might be found.
A quick search of Tennessee records shows marriages for Harris Wylie to Arty Taylor, 4 October 1790, Washington County; Robert Harris to Dorcas Balch, 5 September 1797, Green County, Tennessee.
I am sure many more records can be found to supplement the plethora of facts in this lawsuit.
Take the time to do your own research and dig deep!