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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

Iva Killen of Kent County, Delaware, was one of more than 600,000 Americans who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.

Like so many others, he was an atypical flu victim: where the flu usually kills the very young and the very old, the 1918 flu hit hardest at young healthy adults.1 Killen was only 34 years old when he died on the 9th of December 1918.2

Killen left behind a widow, Annie (Hurd) Killen,3 and six children — Clayton, James, Roland, Woodrow, Cleora and Beatrice.4 All but James were alive in 1924 when each was found to be entitled to receive a grand total of $372.65 from Iva’s estate.5

On the 21st of April 1924, the Orphans’ Court of Kent County appointed the Farmers Bank of Delaware as the guardian for the property of all five children at the request of their mother, who had remarried. Annie Killen Kelley filed the petitions in March 1924; each was signed by the court, with an $800 bond required from the bank.6

The records of the guardianships — lasting until each child turned 21 — are fascinating by themselves:

     • Clayton was 15 in 1924; he turned 21 on 14 March 1930; with interest his share had grown to $446.68. After expenses, his share when he came of age was $343.30.7

     • Roland was 13 in 1924; he turned 21 on 30 September 1931. His mother was awarded $15 for board and clothing, and after its commission the bank had $361.47 in hand to pay Roland at his majority.8

     • Woodrow was 10; he turned 21 on 5 April 1935. His mother had received $113 over the years of the guardianship “for clothes for minor.” After deducting its commission, the bank had $356.23 in hand to pay Woodrow at his majority.9

     • Cleora was eight years old in 1924; she turned 21 on 29 March 1937. Her mother had received $195.08 for “care of ward,” and, after its commission, the bank had $351.25 to pay Cleora.10

     • Beatrice was five years old in 1924; she turned 21 on 21 August 1939. Her mother had been paid $233.24 over the years for “maintenance of ward.” After deducting its commission, the bank had $345.08 to pay Beatrice.11

But in those last two account, a word appears that’s another one of those “what the heck does that mean” words that show up so often in legal records. Each of those final account statements sets out a charge of $1.00 for an “acquittance.”

Turns out it’s pretty simple, but it’s sure not a word you’ll see all that often, so here’s all you need to know if you stumble across it in a document. An acquittance is “a written discharge, whereby one is freed from an obligation to pay money or perform a duty. It differs from a release in not requiring to be under seal.”12

Here, the bank wanted to be permanently off the hook — “freed from an obligation to … perform a duty” — as guardian as each child came of age. In the first three cases, the form the court required was a release. In the last two, it was an acquittance. The $1.00 fee was the filing fee to make sure the document was recorded by the clerk.

You may see the term in court filings, like the guardianships here, or you may come across it in contracts. Here’s how it works there: say you give me $20 and I give you an IOU. Later, I give you $20 and you give me a receipt. That receipt works as an acquittance — it frees me from the obligation to pay you anything more.

An acquittance. Who’d have thunk it?


  1. See Richard Knox, “1918 Killer Flu Reconstructed,” NPR, posted 5 Oct 2005 ( : accessed 28 May 2013).
  2. Delaware State death certif. no. 4655, Iva Killen, 9 Dec 1918; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Dover.
  3. See Kent County, Delaware, return of marriage, I. R. Killen and Annie Hurd, 15 Aug 1908; digital image, ( : accessed 28 May 2013); citing Delaware State Archives microfilm.
  4. See 1910 U.S. census, Kent County, Delaware, Felton, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 11, p. 10(B) (penned), dwelling/family 156, Iva Killen household; digital image, ( : accessed 28 May 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 145; imaged from FHL microfilm 1374158. See also Kent County, Delaware, Orphans Court File RC 3840.006, Iva Killen (dec’d), 1924-39; Delaware State Archives, Dover; digital images, “Delaware, Orphan Court Records, 1720-1975, Kent County,” ( : accessed 28 May 2013).
  5. Kent County, Delaware, Orphans Court File RC 3840.006, Iva Killen (dec’d).
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., First and Final Account, Clayton Killen, 1924-1930, Guardian Book M: 51-52.
  8. Ibid., First and Final Account, Roland Killen, 1924-1931, Guardian Book M: 89.
  9. Ibid., First and Final Account, Woodrow Killen, 1924-1935, Guardian Book M: 171.
  10. Ibid., First and Final Account, Cleora Killen, 1924-1937, Guardian Book M: 217.
  11. Ibid., First and Final Account, Beatrice Killen, 1924-1939, Guardian Book M: 271.
  12. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 20, “acquittance.”
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