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Finding resources

So one question from yesterday’s Legacy Family Tree webinar, The Ties That Bond, keeps coming up.

Where, oh where, can I find those bonds?

Marriage bonds, bastardy bonds, official bonds, appearance and bail bonds — they’re all among the very best genealogical records we might find and so very underused as resources.

They’re great because they give us clues to our ancestors we might not find in any other way.

Mrr.BondJust as one example, The Legal Genealogist has written in the past about the marriage bond you see at the left here — for the marriage of my fourth great grandparents in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1816.1 It was also highlighted in yesterday’s webinar. 2

And what did that one document reveal? Only a few things of interest. Like the maiden name of the intended bride, Elizabeth Brewer, a fact stated in no other document we have ever been able to find.

And mining the document for more subtle clues, we might realize that the groom, Boston Shew, could sign his name. That his bondsman, Simon Shew, could not sign his name. And we’d have good reason to believe — since the bondsman was taking the risk of having to pay a huge sum of money if the bond was ever forfeited — that the bondsman must be very close kin indeed to be willing to put himself on the hook like that.

So… did our ancestors ever have to file a bond and, if so, where might it be found today?

Let’s break this question down:

1. Did my ancestor ever have to file a bond?

Now you already know that the answer to that…

It depends.

It depends, first, on what the law at that time and in that place required a bond for. I know I sound like a broken record here, but there’s really no substitute for cozying up to the statute books for the places our folks came from. It doesn’t make any sense to be out there hunting for marriage bonds for a place that didn’t require them at the time.

And then we need to consider all the possible ways our folks might have interacted with government of the courts where a bond was required. We’d sure want to look for a marriage bond for anybody who got married at a time and in a place that a marriage bond was required. But we need to think more broadly:

• Did an ancestor get into trouble with the law? Look for a bail bond or an appearance bond.
• Ever get herself with child out of wedlock? Look for a bastardy bond.
• Ever sue or get sued in a civil case? Look for a bond related to the court proceedings.
• Ever lose a case and want to appeal? Look for an appeal bond.
• Ever become a public official of any kind? Look for an official bond.
• Ever serve as administrator or executor of an estate or guardian for children? Look for a bond of that type.

Once we figure out all the possible types of bonds our ancestors might have had to file, we go on to the next question.

2. Where would the records be today?

The answer to this question isn’t any different for bonds records than it is when we’re looking at any kind of public records we might want for genealogical research. It’s always the same process:

• Identify the jurisdiction — the town, city, county — where the event took place.
• Figure out what the modern jurisdiction is (since county lines changed and towns came and went).
• Find out whether the kinds of records we want from that time frame in that jurisdiction survive.
• Find out who’s got those surviving records now.

And, of course, one place to look, always, is the catalog of the Family History Library. If I can find what I’m looking for on microfilm and can have it delivered to my local Family History Center, I’ve saved myself a road trip. So I often check there first.

Now don’t tell the folks who’ve worked so hard on the new catalog on, but I’m a big fan of the old catalog you can find here.3 And if I’m looking for bonds in, say, Accomack County, Virginia, I’m going to use the keyword search and plug in Accomack and bonds as my search terms. The 20 titles returned for that search include:

• Official bonds, 1827-1906 Virginia. County Court (Accomack County)
• Administrator and executor bonds, 1797-1863 Virginia. District Court (Accomack County District)
• Marriage licenses and bonds, 1774-1917 Accomack County (Virginia). County Clerk
• Guardian and orphan bonds, 1798-1943 Virginia. County Court (Accomack County)
• Administrator and executor bonds, 1784-1962 Virginia. County Court (Accomack County)
• Special commissioners bonds, 1905-1937 Virginia. Circuit Court (Accomack County)
• Ordinary license bonds, 1832-1859 Virginia. County Court (Accomack County)
• Constable bonds, 1829-1852 Virginia. County Court (Accomack County)

Notice that this doesn’t include any of the bonds that might have been filed with the courts because of court cases except probate cases. So I need to look further for those. The court minutes or dockets, perhaps. The loose case files. Or, very likely, a set of records that’s never been microfilmed and is still sitting in the courthouse in Accomac or Virginia’s fabulous archives and library, the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

To find everything, I’m likely going to have to look at local records, county records, microfilm and records that have been moved to the State Archives.

I may need to enlist the help of the local genealogical society whose members often have a depth of knowledge of the local records that even the courthouse personnel won’t have.4

Is it worth it?

You can answer that for yourself.

For me, with my fourth great grandmother’s maiden name tucked neatly into my heart on one single piece of paper now at the North Carolina State Archives, all I can say is, you betcha it is.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “The ties that bond,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 25 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 19 Feb 2014).
  2. If you missed the webinar, it’s archived and you can hear it free for a few days. Or — koff koff — you could subscribe to the Legacy Family Tree webinar series or buy the individual recording and get the handout…
  3. And I hope it never goes away in my lifetime.
  4. Isn’t that a very good reason to join the local genealogical societies in the areas where our ancestors came from, to support their efforts for those times when we need their expertise? Just sayin’ …
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