Courthouses have the BEST records for genealogical research. If you do not have a game plan before your visit you will be greatly overwhelmed. Therefore I recommend that you carry a list of names and dates before you go. Also, you should determine which records you want to look for beforehand. The first time I went out to the Pittsylvania County Courthouse in Chatham it was my goal to search marriage and will records. I absolutely love marriage records because they can fill in some gaps you may have, such as maiden names and parent names. I frequent the Danville City courthouse regularly and often search their collection of marriage licenses. Records for Danville date back to 1841. Anything prior to that year will be housed in Pittsylvania County.
When I started searching the marriage indexes in Chatham I was beyond excited to see the marriage licenses of my ancestors. Unfortunately, the older records in Pittsylvania County were only recorded in books. I was really hoping to see actual licenses like they have in Danville. Even though I was disappointed the information they recorded was still very rich. For example, I found that my great-great grandparents were officially married on February 4, 1894. Wilson was 58 and Phillis Inge was 40, they both were single and their race was colored. Under parent's names for Wilson it states "unknown both dead" and for Phillis it says "Jeff & Rosina Inge." I recognize the Jeffrey name from Phillis's death certificate. For years I thought her slave master John M. Inge was her father but obviously I was wrong. I also found the marriage record for Phillis' brother Felix Inge who also had Jeffrey and Rosina as his parents. I am on the hunt to locate this Jeffrey!
One thing that baffled me after I found my great-great grandparents' marriage was the timing of it all. I know they were living as husband and wife since the first time I saw them in the 1870 US Federal Census. I figured they got married as slaves. After slavery was abolished in 1865 many couples went to the courthouse to get married legally. However, Wilson and Phillis waited until 1894. I just wonder why all of a sudden they decided to get married after living as a married couple for 20+ years. Hmmmm....
After searching marriage records for a couple hours I decided to look at the Will books. I highly doubted I would find a will for any of my ancestors but I was hoping to look at wills from Pritchetts dated before 1865. The reason is because many slave owners stated the names of their slaves by name. I did find some interesting finds that I will talk about later but the most surprising thing for me was finding my great-great grandmother's will dated 1918! Her name was mentioned at the very bottom of the index book and I nearly missed it. I remember thinking, "there's NO WAY this could be my great-great grandmother...but at least I will check it out!" Here is the transcript from her will:
I, Phillis Pritchett, being of sound and disposing mind do hereby make publish and declare this to be my last will and testament hereby revoking all other wills by me at any time made.
First, I desire all my just debts to be paid if I shall owe any at my death.
Second, I give all of my personal property and real estate including the house in which I live and 39 acres of land on which the house stands to my daughter Alice Pritchett in fee simple.
Third, I do hereby nominate and appoint my daughter Henrietta Cousins of the County of Pittsylvania VA executor of this my last will and testament with full power and authority to execute the same according to its time and intended meaning and having perfect confidence in her judgment and integrity I direct that the said executor shall not give security-I also give to my seven children $1.00 each.
In witness whereof I hereunto inscribe my name and affix my seal to this my last will and testament which is written without any interlineation or erasure on two sheets of paper with my name written on each sheet thereof at the top of the first and bottom of second.
This 27th day of November 1918
Phillis Pritchett [seal]
The above signature of the testator Phillis Pritchett was made and the foregoing will was acknowledged by the said Phillis Pritchett in the presence of me two competent witnesses do hereunto inscribe the said will in the presence of the said testator and of each other at the request of the said testator this 27 day of November 1918
T. C. Cousins
Virginia: In the clerks office of the circuit court for the County of Pittsylvania, at the courthouse thereof on Tuesday the 4th day of March 1924.
The last will and testament of Phillis Pritchett late of the County of Pittsylvania deceased, was this day proved by the oath of T.C. Cousins one of the subscribing witnesses thereto that said will was signed and acknowledged by the testatrix in the presence of himself and Lillian Lunnerman the other subscribing witness thereto present at the same time, that they the said witnesses subscribed the said will in the presence of the Testator and of each other and therefore it is ordered that the said will be recorded as the true last will and testament of the said Phillis Pritchett deceased.
S.S. Hurt Clerk
The following is a list of heirs of Phillis Pritchett, deceased.
Alice Pritchett Daughter 40 Years Old Cascade VA
Henrietta Cousins “ 35 “ “ “ “
Captolia Williams “ 60 “ “ “ “
Mary Roberts “ 58 “ “ Martinsville VA
Gus Pritchett Son 52 “ “ Cascade VA
Felix Pritchett Son 46 “ “ “ “
John Lee Pritchett Son 35 “ “ “ “
Lillian Lunnerman Daughter 36 “ “ Burnt Chimney VA
Bettie Martin (Daughter in law) 35 “ “ Cascade VA
Phillis Pritchett, Deceased
State of Virginia
County of Pittsylvania To-Wit
This day Felix Pritchett made oath before me that the above is a correct list of heirs of Phillis Pritchett, deceased, together with their ages and addresses, to the best of his knowledge and belief.
Given under my hand this 4th day of March, 1924.
E.H. Shelton, Deputy
Pittsylvania Circuit Court, VA
This deed made this 27th day of August 1907 between R. A. James and Annie W. James his wife parties to the first part and Phyllis Pritchett, Gus Pritchett, Felix Pritchett and Henretta Cousins (wife of Tyler Cousins) parties to the second part.
WITNESSETH: That for and in consideration of $750 cash in hand paid, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, of which amount 1/6 was paid by each, Phyllis Pritchett, Gus Pritchett, & Henretta Cousins and the remainder, one half (1/2) was paid by the said Felix Pritchett. The said parties to the first part do bargain, sell, grant and convey unto the said parties to the second part, their heirs and assigns forever each undivided interest in proportion to his or her aforesaid payment that is to say: unto Phyllis Pritchett 1/6 interest, Gus Pritchett 1/6 interest, Henretta Cousins 1/6 interest and unto said Felix Pritchett one half interest in and to all of that certain parcel or tract of land situate about two miles west of Brosville Va. And bounded by the lands of church merchant, F. N. Williams, John & Captola Williams, Mrs. B.F. Dyer, J.R. Morrison & others, containing about 130 acres more or less, with general warranty of title: It being all that southern part of a tract of land formerly owned by Joseph C. Milner & devised by his only heir Mollie J. Millner to Angelina James by will probated in the clerks office of the City of Radford, VA not sold and conveyed by a contemporaneous deed, herewith to John & Captola Williams and to which deed reference is made for a fuller description of the diving line between the said John & Captola Williams & the land herein conveyed to the aforesaid parties of the second part.
As witness the following signatures and seals
R.A. James [seal]
Annie W. James [seal]
City of Danville
I, Walter C. Noell, a notary public in and for the City of Danville, State of Virginia, do certify that R. A. James and Annie W. James his wife, whose names are signed to the foregoing deed bearing date on the 27th day of August 1907 home each acknowledged the same before me in my city aforesaid. Given under my hand this day of August 1907. My commission expires 8th day of April 1910.
Walter C. Noell, N.P.
Virginia: In the clerks office of Pittsylvania Circuit Court at the courthouse thereof, on the 5th day of September 1907 at 7 o’clock A.M., the foregoing writing upon its certificate of acknowledgments was admitted to records.