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No matter what the name is…

It was July of 1848, and Robert Smith had been given a special charge by the court in Gilmer County, Georgia.

By law, he had to give bond in the amount of $200.

In other words, he had to make a promise that he would do the job right, with a financial penalty if he didn’t do it.1

And his bond was to “the Justices of the Inferior Court when sitting for ordinary Purposes for said County.”2



Uh… Right.

Okay, whazzat?

Even The Legal Genealogist hadn’t come up against a Court of Ordinary before getting immersed in family history.

Because it’s not a court that exists by that name anymore.

It did, for sure, in Georgia and in South Carolina, for many years. But it was abolished in South Carolina by the Constitution of 18683 and in Georgia by a constitutional amendment in 1974.4

court of ordinary

So… what was the Court of Ordinary anyway?

And the answer is: no ordinary court at all.

At least not to a genealogist.

Because that’s the name those jurisdictions gave their probate courts. By definition: “In some of the United States (e. g., Georgia) this name is given to the probate or surrogate’s court, or the court having the usual jurisdiction in respect to the proving of wills and the administration of decedents’ estates.”5

Early on, the Georgia Legislature provided that “The inferior court … when sitting for ordinary purposes, shall have the original jurisdiction of all testate and intestate estates, appointing administrators and guardians, to qualify executors, administrators and guardians, and to bind out orphans, and all such other matters and things as appertain or relate to estates of deceased persons, whether testate or intestate.”6

In South Carolina, colonial law had followed the British statutes, and on independence, its new constitution simply provided that ordinaries would continue to “exercise the powers heretofore exercised by the ordinary.”7

What was done by these “courts of ordinary” is, of course, genealogical gold. Just looking at a few catalog entries on FamilySearch of records made or kept by Courts of Ordinary in Georgia alone tells the tale:

• Twelve months’ support (from estates being administered in the Court of Ordinary) 1897-1953, Appling County, Georgia

• Poor school funds, 1846-1859, school board records (number of children returned), 1860-1864, Court of Ordinary docket of applications, 1878-1890 (Bulloch County, Georgia)

• Free persons of color and indentures 1858-1895, Thomas County, Georgia

• Indenture of apprenticeships, 1866-1930, of Houston County (Georgia)

• Lunacy records 1898-1909, Butts County, Georgia

• Birth records 1875-1877 (Randolph County, Georgia)

• Certification of druggists, dentists, and embalmers, 1881-1912 (Lumpkin County, Georgia)

• Confederate pension roll, 1914-1925 : minutes of Confederate Association, list of confederate veterans in Ordinary’s Office, 1889-1897 (Mitchell County, Georgia)

• Estray records, 1832-1926 (Henry County, Georgia)

No, no matter what the name is — surrogate’s court, orphans’ court, probate court or, in cases like Georgia’s and South Carolina’s, Court of Ordinary — to a genealogist, the court that handles estates is no ordinary court.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “No ordinary court,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 31 Jan 2022).


  1. You remember surety bonds. We’ve talked about them before. These are where someone serving in some official capacity promises to pay the judge or the appointing authority a certain amount if and only if the person appointed screwed up. See, e.g., Judy G. Russell, “The beer bust and the surety bond,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Feb 2012 ( : accessed 31 Jan 2022).
  2. FamilySearch, digital film 005761671, Gilmer County, Georgia, Administrators and Guardian Bonds, Book I: 3, image 250, Administration Bond, Robert Smith, Administrator of Estate of James Kell, 3 July 1848.
  3. See e.g. “History of the Probate Court,” Richland County, South Carolina ( : accessed 31 Jan 2022).
  4. See “Georgia Office and Court of Ordinary, Amendment 4 (1974),” Ballotpedia ( : accessed 31 Jan 2022).
  5. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 292, “court of ordinary.”
  6. §3, Article I, Chapter 27, “Courts of Ordinary,” in William A. Hotchkiss, compiler, A Codification of the Statute Law of Georgia (Savannah: John M. Cooper 1845), 688; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 31 Jan 2022).
  7. Article 24, South Carolina Constitution of 1778, in Joseph Brevard, An Alphabetical Digest of the Public Statute Law of South-Carolina, 3 vols. (Charleston: John Hoff, 1814), II: 92; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 31 Jan 2022).
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