Early Virginia Research: The Jurisdictional Challenge, Part 2

You can master the jurisdictional challenge of early Virginia research if you include searches in special jurisdictions which cover specific segments of the population–your hard-to-find Virginia ancestors are waiting!

These record-keeping entities are important because:
· These Virginia jurisdictions create unique records documenting your ancestors
· You are dependent upon which Virginia records have survived to trace your family tree
· Where major record loss occurs at one level, search others levels to fill in the holes
· Libraries catalog and file records by provenance (authorship); jurisdictions are authors
· The records produced by these special jurisdictions have not been unavailable until recently–you will be searching sources others may not yet have examined

A Research FACT: Major genealogical sources in early Virginia, omit chunks of people–a research fact that most genealogy textbooks neglect to tell you–so how would you know you must consult these jurisdictions?

Consider these omissions in traditional sources:
wills (40% to 80%), probate inventories (up to 60%), tax lists and tithables (10% to 20%), church records (50% and higher), deeds (up to 60%), censuses (15% to 35%), customs records and passenger lists (over 40%).

Plantations–Private Jurisdictions Under Landed Planters
Plantations are based on English feudal organization. Terms, used in plantation records, may not be familiar to you. So let’s examine some of the more important ones:

  1. Primogeniture–eldest son inherits estate as a unit and also inherits the obligation to warrant the land and care for siblings and parents (especially the mother). Primogeniture was abolished ca 1785 as the new constitution was ratified.
  2. Entail–estate cannot be divided among heirs or sold out of the family. Estate descends directly o the heir (eldest son or surviving relative so designated). FATHER creates the entail, chooses what property is included in the estate, and determines the age when the son or heir inherits. Before 1705, entail was broken by “Fine” or “Common Recovery” –a court process. After 1705, entail was broken only by legislative act. 3/4ths of the land in Virginia was entailed. Entail abolished ca 1776.
  3. Adventurer–invests in land and plantations, underwrites emigration expenses; does not live on plantation, sends sons and other relatives to America to manage his interests.
  4. Planter–transports self and others to America, resides on plantation. “Seated” means he builds a home to live in and keeps livestock on the land for at least one year. “Planted” means he has cleared and planted at least one acre within three years. Land is owned in more than one county; younger sons and daughters reside on these lands once they come of age or marry. After 1705, slaves were inherited with the land and could not be sold separately from the plantation. They could, however, be leased or rented to others for a fee.

Records for Antebellum Southern Plantations

The records are available on 1,594 reels of microfilm from University Publications of America, Bethesda MD. The complete series is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City UT; Ft. Worth (TX) Public Library Genealogy Section; and the Local
History Branch, Mid-Content Public Library, Independence MO. Janice Schultz, librarian at Mid-Continent, is preparing an every-name and full-subject index to the plantation project guides. This index will be available online http://www.mcpl.lib.mo.us/

Why No Document of Conveyance is Required to Transfer Title
The Virginia land law protected real estate from public record (and scrutiny), allowing title to pass directly to the heir(s). If personal property was sufficient to cover debts of the estate, no mention of land holdings or their values was needed in the property records. It was the responsibility of an estate settlement (probate) to ensure that outstanding debts were paid and that the heirs at law received just legacies. Probates over L100 were transferred automatically to the General Court in early Virginia. Until the American Revolution, any estate over that amount could request transfer. Read Allan Kulikoff, Tobacco and Slaves: Development of Southern Culture in the Chesapeake, 1680-1800. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986; Jackson T. Main, “The One Hundred,” William and Mary Quarterly, ser 3, 11 (Oct 1954): 354-84 and Arlene H. Eakle, Virginia Notebooks, Volume 6.

Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle. http://www.arleneeakle.com

PS Part 1 of this series on Virginia Jurisdictions was posted 3 June 2008. Keep watch for more previews of the book I am working on–Virginia Jurisdictions and Your Genealogy.

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