Friday, November 26, 2010

Friend of Friends Friday: Post-Emancipation Virginia Chancery Records

The digitization of county chancery records by the Library of Virginia is one of the most exciting projects for history and genealogy in the Commonwealth. In disputes over property and estate settlements, it’s not uncommon to find the names of slaves and the names of their owners. But don’t limit a search to cases during slavery. Cases filed long after slavery ended can hold important clues to the names of owners.

The Fairfax County case of Catherine Holland etc v. Administrators of James Moore, etc. (Index Number 1900-012) involves a dispute over land owned by African Americans and a witness provides valuable information about the background of one party. The case was filed in 1892 and the witness made this statement in 1896, more than 40 years after emancipation:

“At the request of Catherine Holland, I make the following the statement, as to what I know of James Moore and his family. James Moore and his wife were slaves of my father B.F. Rixey who lived near Marshall, Fauquier Col, Va. He married Joanna Marshall & lived with her up to the time he left Fauquier, some time during the late war. I think they had two children when the(y) left, Daphney & Catherine. I have always understood that Ben, was her child also, but as he was born since the(y) left Fauquier, I could not say positively. James M. Rixey”


Not only does the witness give the name of the slave owner, but he also reveals their last names, and neither of them had their owner’s last name. He also provides a time frame for when they moved away.

Another interesting thing to keep in mind is that this case was filed in Fairfax County about property located in the eastern part of the county, yet it contains information about a family that had lived in Fauquier County, more than 40 miles away. So while the chancery cases are filed by county, relevant information might be found about people from other localities.

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