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The stories to be found

How many times has The Legal Genealogist said it?

There’s so much to be learned by simply sitting down and poking around in volumes of old legal records.

Whether it’s a private law evidencing a soldier’s loss of an arm while on military duty1 or a public law on the defense of duress reflecting a mindset that’s very much a quirk of early law2 or the clash of dueling administrators in a New Zealand probate case in 1884,3 the sheer number of stories you can come across in law-related records of all kinds is staggering.

And every one of them is worth pursuing.

So yes, The Legal Genealogist has said it — and said it — and said it.

And now so has The Library of Virginia — Virginia’s fabulous State Library and Archives.

LVA blog

Take a gander at today’s post in the LVA blog Out of the Box: Notes from the Archives @ The Library of Virginia. Written by Tracy Harter, Senior Local Records Consulting Archivist, and focusing on the Henrico county court order books, the post stresses that “even the driest local records can lead to the most interesting stories.”4

The records this post looks at are local court records in just one of Virginia’s counties, but all of the order books “contain a wide variety of information, including appointments of county and militia officers, records of legal disputes heard before the county court, appointments of guardians, apprenticeship of children by the overseers of the poor, naturalizations, road orders, and registrations of free African Americans.”5

And in those order books are so many stories — and so many genealogical gems. Harter samples just a few:

• In 1790, “George Maxfield a poor orphan” was bound to a shoemaker, “Simon, a free negro” was bound to a tailor, and “Joe a free negro” was bound out to a barber. In 1799, “John and Christopher, sons of a free Woman lately deceased by the name of Keturah Johnston” were bound out to Daniel Vandewall.6

• In 1796, an order was entered recording that “A deed of emancipation from Nelly Wood to her daughter Janette Wood was acknowledged by the said Nelly Wood.”7

• In 1787, “Abram a negro man slave the property of Robert Warren” was found guilty of “stealing from Moses Austin and Company sundry articles of merchandise of the value of eight pounds.” He was sentenced to be “burnt in the left hand and…receive on his bare back at the public whipping post thirty nine lashes to be well laid on.”8

Yes, indeed, there’s so much to be learned by simply sitting down and poking around in volumes of old legal records.

Try it.

You won’t regret it.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “In those legal records,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 19 June 2019).


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Down the legal rabbit holes,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Mar 2019 ( : accessed 19 June 2019).
  2. See ibid., “The defense of coverture,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Feb 2019.
  3. See ibid., “Family feuds, Kiwi-style,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 24 May 2017.
  4. Tracy Harter, “Glimpses of History: Henrico County Court Order Books,” Out of the Box: Notes from the Archives @ The Library of Virginia, posted 19 June 2019 ( : accessed 19 June 2019).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
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