… with some help from a friend …
Reader Frank T. Jones found himself deep in the weeds of South Carolina legal research — and lost in its labyrinthine 19th century court structure.
In tracing part of his in-laws’ family, he was focusing on Arland Alexander Smith (1813-1861), born in South Carolina but in Dekalb County, Georgia, in 1850, and in Cherokee County, Alabama, in 1860. Frank’s research goal was to identify Arland’s parents.
In his research, he ran across an ad published 23 September 1840 in the Farmers’ Gazette and Cheraw Advertiser of Cheraw, South Carolina:
The notice, from the Commissioner in Equity for the Cheraw District Equity Court, stated that the Commissioner was satisfied that three defendants in an estate case for account and partition of land — “Arland Smith and Elizabeth Smith his wife and Lucinda McPherson” — were “absent from and reside without the limits” of South Carolina. He gave them until 1 January 1841 to appear and answer the complaint in the case or judgment would be entered against them by default. And, the notice said, publication of that order had to appear in the newspaper twice a month for three months.1
Frank recognized that the notice was a terrific lead. He needed to see what was in the file for the case of Goodson et al. v. Beck et al. in the Cheraw District Equity Court.
Just one hitch.
That court no longer exists — and hasn’t since not long after that notice was published. There hasn’t even been a separate court of equity in South Carolina since the Constitution of 1868.
A search for its records in the catalog at FamilySearch.org — using keywords and other search options — comes up empty. No court records are returned by a catalog search for keywords Cheraw District and no records at all in a keyword search for Cheraw equity.2
And a search of the catalog at the South Carolina State Archives suggests that the equity records for this court that are available there are not available online.3
So… if Frank wants to find the court records of this case, he’s going to need to head off physically to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in Columbia to look at its holdings, right?
Well… not so fast.
Now… truth in blogging… this is not an area of South Carolina where The Legal Genealogist has researched. My folks were in the backcountry of what was called the Ninety Six District, the area that became Abbeville or Edgefield Counties in the western part of the state, or in what was called the Pinckney District in the north in what became Union or Spartanburg Counties.
So I did what any self-respecting genealogist would do: I put out a cry for help. And my friend and colleague Scott Wilds rode to the rescue. These are Scott’s stomping grounds, and he knew one thing the online catalogs didn’t reflect: where the Cheraw Equity District records went after there was no longer a Cheraw Equity District Court.
“The Act of 1840 divided the Cheraw District equity court,” Scott reported. “The records were nearly all transferred to the Darlington equity court–they had probably been in Darlington all along (there was no Cheraw courthouse, at least in the 19th century).” And so, these days, “the loose case files as well as the bound journals are at the Darlington County Historical Commission.”4
So that’s where Frank should go, right?
Well… not so fast.
Because the Darlington equity court records have been digitized and are online at FamilySearch… and guess what they include?
Yep: incorporated into those digitized records are the records of the former Cheraw District Equity Court — including, specifically, more than 30 images of records in the case file of Goodson et al. v. Beck et al.5
Even better, Scott noted that there’s a nifty little booklet, South Carolina Court Records: An Introduction for Genealogists, that’s available online at the South Carolina State Library that will be very helpful to all of us with South Carolina ancestors… and hard-to-find court records.6
So it won’t be necessary for Frank to wait to physically travel to Darlington to access these records.
He — and all of us with South Carolina roots — can court South Carolina online.
At least, with a little help from a friend.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Courting South Carolina,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 22 Feb 2022).
- Legal notice, Goodson et al. v. Beck et al., in Farmers’ Gazette and Cheraw Advertiser, Cheraw, South Carolina, 23 Sep 1840, p. 3, col. 5; digital images, Library of Congress, Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ : accessed 22 Feb 2022). ↩
- FamilySearch Catalog, search terms “Cheraw District” and “Cheraw equity,” FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org/ : accessed 22 Feb 2022). ↩
- South Carolina Archives Summary Guide, “Cheraw District,” South Carolina Department of Archives and History (https://scdah.sc.gov/ : accessed 22 Feb 2022). ↩
- Email, Scott Wilds to author, “Some SC help please…,” 21 Feb 2022. ↩
- Goodson et al. v. Beck et al., case file no. 280, in “Darlington District Equity court records (loose papers), 1805-1871”; digital images, DGS film 008196811, images 369-403, FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org/ : accessed 22 Feb 2022). ↩
- Alexia J. Helsley and Michael E. Stauffer, South Carolina Court Records: An Introduction for Genealogists (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1993); PDF online, South Carolina State Library Digital Collections (https://dc.statelibrary.sc.gov/ : accessed 22 Feb 2022). ↩