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Official typos

It’s right there, in one of the most important laws ever passed by the early Virginia state legislature.

Just nine years after the Fifth Virginia Convention proclaimed that Virginia was a free and independent state,1 and just four years after the British forces under General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to Washington’s troops at Yorktown,2 the Virginia Legislature completely revised the new state’s laws of inheritance.3

1785 law with typo

Effective 1 January 1787, gone was the rule of primogeniture, under which the oldest son would automatically receive all the lands in any case where the father died without a will.

The statute announced a new rule, completely different from the common law system in effect until then: “That henceforth when any person having title to any real estate of inheritance, shall die intestate as to such estate, it shall descend and pass in parency to his kindred male and female…”4



What’s “parency”?

Head over to The Legal Genealogist‘s favorite law dictionary and…

Nope. Page 868 of Black’s first edition goes from pardoners to parens.5

Well, okay, check an older dictionary — one closer in time to the statute.

Nope. Tomlins’ 1797 update of Giles Jacob’s law dictionary goes from pardon to parent.6

You can check every dictionary there ever was, and you’re not going to find a definition of parency.

Because that’s not the word the legislature intended.

The word that should have been in that published volume is parcenary: “The state or condition of holding title to lands jointly by parceners or co-parceners, before a division of the joint estate.” So parceners — under the law sons and daughters alike with no preference by age or gender — were to be joint heirs.7

The word “parency” in the published laws?

It’s a typo.

And it’s not the only one you’ll find in the laws.

Another case in point is in the North Carolina laws of 1833-1834, and it creates a new county out of parts of Burke and Buncombe Counties, including the portion of Burke County where my own Baker and Buchanan families (among others) were living at the time.

The title of the law: “An act to erect a new county by the name of Yancy.” Effective 13 January 1834, it set out the boundaries and stated, quite clearly, that “the same is hereby erected into a separate and distinct county by the name of Yancy…”8

Except that North Carolina never had a Yancy County.

Not then, not ever.

What it did have was a Yancey County: “Established in 1833, the mountainous county of Yancey borders the state of Tennessee, and it was named in honor of Bartlett Yancey, a Congressman who served from 1813 to 1817.”9

And that wasn’t the only time the official published North Carolina laws got it wrong. There are numerous statutes over time spelling it Yancy instead of Yancey.10


It’s frustrating enough to try to find the laws we need to fully understand the records we use as genealogists.

But when the official versions of those laws come complete with typos — well, pfffffffffffft.11

So the moral of today’s story: any source — A-N-Y source — even the official laws of the time and place — can be wrong.

In other words, trust… but verify.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “When the law is wrong,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 30 March 2022).


  1. See Gabriel Neville, “Virginia Declares Independence,” 8th Virginia Regiment blog, updated 29 June 2020 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2022).
  2. See “Surrender at Yorktown,” Today in History–October 19, Library of Congress ( : accessed 30 Mar 2022).
  3. Chapter LX, Laws of 1785, in William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia… (Richmond: George Cochran, printer, 1823), 12: 138 et seq.
  4. Ibid., §I.
  5. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 868.
  6. T. E. Tomlins, rev., The Law-Dictionary…, 2 vols. (London : Andrew Strahan, printer, 1797), alphabetical and unpaginated.
  7. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 868, “parcenary” and “parcener.”
  8. Chapter 83 in Laws of the State of North Carolina… 1833-1834 (Raleigh: Lawrence & Lemay, 1834), 145-146.
  9. Jonathan Martin, “Yancey County (1833),” North Carolina History Project ( : accessed 30 Mar 2022).
  10. See Judy G. Russell, “The name game,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 May 2021 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2022).
  11. Feel free to substitute whatever stronger word floats your boat for the circumstances.
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