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Volume 4, Number 17 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 October 18, 2012
Author's Notes In this article we discuss the minutes of a county. In these important documents, you can find a wealth of information about your ancestors. Sometimes the information can be difficult to sort through, but it can lead to many new pieces of your genealogy search. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.
James L. Douthat
COURT OF PLEAS AND QUARTERLY SESSIONS
In doing genealogical research, we often ignore the sources where we will find the information because we think it is too difficult to locate. The Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions as some states call them, is one of those sources. In every state and every county, there is an organization established to handle the day to day matters of that area. It is called by different names, but the actions are pretty much the same. A world of important records is found in their minutes with notations that are helpful to the researcher.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the fact that many of these records have not been transcribed and indexed. For this fact, many researchers are opposed to sitting down and reading those minutes. We say we don’t have the time or that we can’t read the hand writing. Whatever the excuse, we are missing a great deal of information that is vital to our research.
Listed below is some of the information found in these records:
1. Deed records and land transfers. Sometimes the Deed Books give the details and sometimes the real details are taken up in the court session. If we know the date when the deed was recorded, we might want to go back in the court minutes to verify that there was no issue with the transfer of the land.
2. Estate processes are taken care of in the court. This may mean that the will has to be verified and approved. In some cases, the widow’s claims are discussed or the administrators are appointed. In most all cases, the estate is settled via the court as the county wants their fair share of the taxes. Frequently, judges are appointed to make sure that the estate is settled according to the will statements. Usually this is the case when the widow and child are given the responsibility for the estate. The court wants to make sure all claimants receive their fair share.
3. Abandoned and orphaned children are a prime source of records in the minutes. During the early history of the counties, they dealt with orphaned children by binding them out to a responsible person of high standing in the community. To be fair with the child and the guardians, the court received regular reports on the affairs of the child. When a child is bound out they are given over to the responsible person with certain stipulations. Normally, the child is bound only up to the age of accountability 18-21. At the time of accountability, the child is free to choose their life style. They have been given training in a trade and when released are to be given the tools of that trade with two suits of clothes, the one they are wearing and another one. Many times, the child remains with the family as this is the family that has raised them.
4. Bastardy situations are usually handled by the court. In the case of some states, they require that the female come into court and declare the child a bastard. Sometimes they request the name of the father and sometimes only a bond of several in the community who will give assurance that the child will never become a ward of the court and it will be cared for in a proper manner. In North Carolina, a bond is issued by the court with the names of those who will care for the child during its infancy or to the age of accountability. It is not surprising that this list will sometimes include the father even though he is not stated as such. Most often those who do sign the bond are relatives of the woman, such as father, brothers, cousins, etc.
5. Road orders are a big part of the court’s working. In the early nineteenth century, the roads in the county were cared for by local citizens. One of the persons living on a certain road would be charged with the responsibility of caring for the road with the help of those living along that stretch. These helpers are said to be given the job of being the “hands” to do the work.
6. Militia records are recorded in the court minutes. Beginning with the start of the country, there was very little in the way of a standing army. For protection, the militia or citizen solder was the main source of protection. Most counties were divided into “companies” with officers over each and when the need arose the units were called up for a period of time, usually three months in the case of a war. When the need arose for a search of intruders into the community, they may only serve a few days or weeks. The county appointed the officers for these units and the records are found in the minutes. It was not until the time of the War with Mexico in the late 1840s that armies came into play.
7. Disputed marriages and divorces were handled by the court. In many cases of illegally, bastardy, breach of contract, bigamy or clandestine marriages performed by a publican in an ale house, the court will intervene in the affairs. Sometimes the cases of divorce are handled in open court. I have found that the divorces records are found almost in every court in the states from the State Legislature down to the local judge. This is the same for naturalization records.
Whatever confronts the local area at any given time, the county courts have to deal with the situation. You will find the records in their minutes. Take a little time and go through these carefully. You will be surprised at the notes you will make. Don’t forget to record the dates of each entry. You think you will never forget that, but turn the page and you have forgotten the date of that last entry already. I know that I do!
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