Tag Archives: divorce

- Lee Co. Chancery Goes Digital!


First issue of Emory and Henry College's the Emory and Henry Casket, John Slack vs. John W. Carnes, etc., Lee County Chancery Cause 1882-052.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Lee County Chancery Causes, 1857-1912, are now available on the Chancery Records Index. Because they rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information and are especially useful when researching local, state, social, and legal history. The Lee County chancery collection offers a glimpse of life in Lee County during the 19th and early-20th centuries by documenting the African American experience, women’s history, Southern business and labor history, and the impact the railroad’s arrival had on a region. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.

Lee County chancery causes contain several suits illustrating the experiences of women in the westernmost part of the commonwealth. In Mary V. Pennington by etc. vs. M. C. Parsons, etc., 1887-019, Mary Pennington sought to gain control over land gifted to her by her father. The land was being sold by her husband, William Pennington, who had become “indebted and greatly embarrassed.” In 1907, Elizabeth Smith faced a similar dilemma. Elizabeth R. Smith vs. J. K. P. Legg, etc., 1907-045, protested the sale of Smith’s land sold for a set of blacksmith tools. Elizabeth Smith did not agree to the sale, but her husband, Samuel L. Smith, “commenced … read more »

- You Are Not The Father


Photograph of Josephine Kelly's son submitted as evidence to prove that the baby's father must be an African American, Prince George County Chancery Cause 1893-001, Thomas P. Kelly vs. Josephine Kelly.

The Prince George County chancery causes are filled with numerous divorce cases involving cheating spouses and adulterous affairs, but in the case of Thomas P. Kelly vs. Josephine Kelly, 1893-001, there is also a bit of baby daddy drama. The divorce suit involves Norfolk native Thomas Kelly, who had been for many years enlisted as a machinist in the United States Navy. During the year 1888, Thomas Kelly was stationed on board the monitor fleet lying at anchor at City Point in Prince George County.  There he met Josephine Hodges, who was sixteen years of age.  As Kelly would later testify in the chancery cause, their relationship began as a friendship and culminated in intimacy. Kelly confessed  that he had sexual intercourse with her on or about the 17th day of June 1888 and also with more or less frequency from that date until he was transferred with the fleet to Richmond in October of the same year. 

About the first of January 1889, Thomas was informed that Josephine was pregnant and that her condition was attributed to him.  Her friends and her mother’s friends, including the pastor of her church, made repeated and urgent endeavors to have Thomas agree to marry her, but as there had been no promise of marriage and no undue advantage taken by him, he refused to comply … read more »

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- Petersburg Chancery Digital Project Now Complete


Plat showing the Virginia Passenger and Power Company's leased, operated, and independent lines in the cities of Richmond and Manchester, Petersburg Chancery Cause George E. Fisher for etc. vs. Virginia Passenger & Power Co. etc., 1907-055.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the completion of the Petersburg chancery causes digital project. The scanning project was funded by the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program along with a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The collection has been digitized from 1787 through 1912 and the images added to the Chancery Records Index. The most recently added suits cover the years 1889-1912.

The following are a few suits of interest found in the newly added Petersburg chancery digital images. 

In chancery cause 1907-055, George E. Fisher, for, etc. vs. Virginia Passenger & Power Company, etc., the plaintiffs ask the court to take over the floundering Virginia Passenger & Power Company in order to protect their financial stake in the business. The suit contains numerous exhibits including plats (images 616, 2030, 2032), minutes from board of directors’ and stockholders’ meetings (images 1878 and 1673). In 1908-034, John F. Crowder, etc. vs. Eli Tartt, etc., the suit stems from the unhappiness of the First Baptist (Colored) Church members with their pastor Eli Tartt. The plaintiffs wanted the court to remove Tartt as pastor of the church and their bill of complaint gives an account of a church meeting that became so uncontrollable that local police had to be called in to restore order (image 7). Crowder, … read more »

- April Fool!


Defaced photograph of William E. Neff sent to his estranged wife Mary E. Neff, Lee County Chancery Cause William E. Neff vs. Mary E. Neff, 1904-048.

Mary E. Neff opened an envelope to find a defaced photograph of her estranged husband, William E. Neff, with an eye gouged out, an ear scratched off, a rodent scrawled on his forehead, and a button attached to his ear dangling from a piece of string.  The couple were in the midst of a divorce, and Mary, assuming that William had sent it, wrote to him that the purpose of the photo “is dark and mysterious to me, and I am at a loss to know the meaning, whether it is jest, insult, ridicule, or what.” 

William E. Neff and Mary E. Munsey were married on 13 April 1899 and lived together as man and wife for a mere four months. By 1902, William was seeking a divorce on grounds of desertion, but it was unclear who deserted whom. William claimed that Mary refused to return home with him after a visit to her parents’ home on the evening of 13 August 1899.  Mary argued that William would not agree to treat her right and just up and abandoned her.

In an attempt to make some sense out of their accusations neighbors and family members were deposed. Mary was accused of shouting that she “did not intend to raise any kids by the baldhead scoundrel” as she strode about a neighbor’s house brandishing a yardstick. … read more »

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- My Vindictive Valentine

Annie Sloat testified that this picture and poem were sent to her by her sister-in-law Minverva Nulton.

Among the character witnesses called in the divorce case of Minerva Alice Nulton and John M. Nulton included John’s widowed sister, Annie Sloat, a dry-goods merchant. In addition to her testimony concerning what she believed to be the bad character of her sister-in-law, Annie entered several items into evidence including this picture and poem that she believed Minerva had sent to her. Based on the statements the two women made about each other in this case, the poem aptly sums up the feelings between Minerva and Annie.

 The case of Minerva Alice Nulton v. John N. Nulton, 1900, is part of the Frederick County Chancery Court Collection. An early accession of Frederick County chancery causes, 1745-1926, was processed in the 1990s and is available on microfilm.  Additional Frederick County chancery causes , 1866-1923 (Accession 42505), were transferred to the LVA and are presently being processed.  This portion will be digitally reformatted as the budget permits.

 -Sam Walters, Local Records Archivist… read more »

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- Not in my Backyard!


Plat from Augusta County Chancery Cause 1899-070, Lambert Bros. vs. Ford & McDowell etc.

The latest images from the Augusta County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. This latest addition of Augusta County chancery causes covering the time period from 1896 through 1902 joins the 1867-1895 causes already available online. Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition.

In 1898, Betty E. Arey proclaimed that a cemetery would not be built in her backyard when she and her husband brought suit against the Town of Waynesboro in R. E. Arey and wife vs. Town of Waynesboro etc., 1898-004. The Areys attempted to halt the construction of a cemetery behind their property and brought as evidence a plat showing the proximity of graves to their house, garden, and well.

In her bill for divorce, Annie B. Black wrote that she was persuaded to elope by John B. Black who later “willfully deserted and abandoned her at the youthful age of thirteen” after having only been married for two months. In Annie B. Black vs. John B. Black, 1900-054, Annie Black claimed that her husband obtained their marriage license without her presence and falsely represented her as being twenty when she was actually not yet thirteen at the time of their marriage.

In Frank H. Bailey vs. Nannie C. Bailey, 1902-004, the Baileys argue over who abandoned whom when … read more »

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- I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost!


Spirit Rappings sheet music cover page, 1853. (Image public domain, used courtesy of Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.)

In 1896, Virginia Anderson, nicknamed Jennie, filed for divorce from her husband, Epps G. Anderson, in the Scott County Circuit Court. He was in his seventies, she in her fifties, and both had grown children from previous marriages. Like many other divorce cases, Virginia and Epps accused each other of a variety of shortcomings including abuse, abandonment, property mismanagement, and infidelity. Having come across cases like this before, I was not expecting it when half way through his deposition Epps stated that “after July the 4, 1896 there had been a knocking spirit down at Doc. Kyle’s. Jennie said she would go down there …when she came back said she heard it and seen it act and it knocked on her… and she said before she started she was going to bring it up here and run me off or scare me.” Epps went on to describe a two-hour episode occurring in the night, with chairs being knocked to the floor, doors blowing open, ghostly footsteps, and a spirit that answered questions by knocking on the walls.

Epps’ daughter, Mollie Edens, also testified in the divorce case and described an encounter with the entity in which Virginia asked the spirit if it was the good spirit or the evil one and told it to “knock three licks if the evil spirit, then [it] knocked three. … read more »

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- Franklin Co. Chancery Added To CRI!

One of the county's historical markers. Image from Wikimedia and used courtesy of MarmadukePercy.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Franklin County chancery causes, 1787-1912, are now available on the Chancery Records Index.  Digital images are available for the years 1787-1912. The complete index covers the years 1787-1929, and original records 1913-1929 are available at The Library of Virginia. Additional post-1913 records are available at the Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Following are a few suits of interest found in this collection.

Franklin County chancery cause 1873-050 includes a detailed report on the division of slaves (image# 10-12), including the ages of the slaves.  There are suits such as 1836-009 and 1885-027 that involve Franklin County native son and Confederate General, Jubal A. Early, who practiced law in Franklin County before and after the Civil War.  Chancery cause 1867-005 is a sad but scandalous divorce suit between James C. Smith and Lucy F. Smith.  James Smith returned home from fighting in the Civil War only to learn that his wife had been unfaithful while he was away (image# 2-3). The suit includes depositions given by Mrs. Smith’s paramours describing their secret getaways. Chancery cause 1870-006 gives details on the many difficulties women encountered while managing estates.  The plaintiff, Nancy B. Ferguson, entrusted the defendant, her nephew Thomas B. Ferguson, with running the day to day affairs of her estate which included numerous … read more »

- Additional Prince Edward County Chancery Causes Added to CRI!

One of the county's historical markers. Image from hmdb.org and used courtesy of Craig Swain.

Additional Prince Edward County chancery causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. These additions span the years 1754 through 1883. Combined with the previously released images for Prince Edward County, the locality’s chancery causes have been digitized for the years 1754 through 1913.

Chancery cases are especially useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions.  They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence; property lists, including slaves; lists of heirs; and vital statistics, along with many other records.  Some of the more common types of chancery causes involve divisions of the estate of a person who died intestate (without a will); divorces; settlements of dissolved business partnerships; and resolutions of land disputes.

Here are a few of the cases you will find in the newly updated Prince Edward County chancery collection. To see more suits, go to the EAD guide and choose “Selected Suits of Interest” on the menu at the left.

 1755-001- Bridget Braithwaite by etc. v. Edward Braithwaite.  The wife sued for separate maintenance. Her husband abandoned her and was cohabiting with Joanna Sinclair, “a woman of ill fame and reputation” in the same parish and county. Bridget Braithwaite and her small children “are likely to … read more »

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- Broken Vows

The Gray's marriage certificate found in a chancery court case in Spotsylvania County.

In 1913, Mary Ella Gray stated in a deposition that she moved to her parents’ home in Fredericksburg after her husband James “continuously abused me, and was very profane to me and often told me that he bore for me no affection whatever, and I could pull up and leave whenever I got ready.”  Court documents show that, prior to reaching this point, happier times were evident in their marriage.

Like so many other Spotsylvania County chancery causes, Mary Ella Gray vs. James Oliver B. Gray, 1913, appeared to be a fairly routine divorce case; however, the marriage certificate was not so ordinary.

The couple was married in the District of Columbia on 1 November 1902.  The certificate is a noteworthy document, illustrative and colorful.  It cites a Bible verse, Ruth 4:13, describing the marriage of Ruth to Boaz, and features an illustration of Ruth gleaning barley in Boaz’s field.  The document was published by Jennings and Dye of Cincinnati, Ohio, printed in Germany.

Divorces were granted through county chancery courts.  The marriage certificate was included in the cause, possibly as an exhibit.  The Spotsylvania County Chancery Causes Collection contains about 40 cubic feet of records and covers the years circa 1811-1925.  It is currently closed for processing and will be digitized.

-Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist… read more »

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