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May 01 2013

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County’s Early Chancery Records Available Online

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When he first ran for elected office in 1999, Mark ‘Bo’ Taylor vowed to computerize and modernize the office he sought – the circuit court clerk’s office.

After he was elected he was introduced to a unique partnership offered through the Library of Virginia, who agreed to transform early chancery causes in the county’s history into an electronic and easily viewable database.

“This opens up these types of records to the public and makes it convenient for them to not necessarily have to visit the courthouse,” Taylor explained. “This information probably would not have been available if this had not been done.”

The indexing and scanning of the chancery allows researchers to search for a particular case by name, date, location and other criteria in ways that weren’t available when the records were stored in clerk’s office.

“I always tell folks when they enter the clerk’s office, it is like a treasure chest because you are never sure what you are going to find,” Taylor added.

Recently, the library announced the digitization project was complete. The index and images are available to researchers via the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.

According to Sam Walters, Local Records Archivist for the Library of Virginia, the Scott County chancery collection covers the years 1816 through 1942 (with digital images posted through 1912). The chancery, or equity cases, are a valuable source of local, state, social and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history.

They often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that reveal detailed stories that help tell the story of Virginia.

Cases contain useful biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free.

Walters highlights Chancery Cause 1873-034, Sampson S. Robinett vs. Samuel Babb, etc., helps document post-Civil War relations as it brings to light lingering bitterness between pro-Union and pro-Confederacy residents living together in Scott. In chancery cause 1897-057, Town of Gate City vs. Col. J. B. Richmond, the city attempted to stop a citizen from blocking what it considered a public road. A large map of Gate City was used as an exhibit. Chancery Cause 1901-058 reveals the religious beliefs of the members of the Regular Primitive Baptist Church of Copper Creek who split into two factions over the doctrine of absolute predestination. Cases are often humorous, such as chancery cause 1898-031, a divorce case highlighting a “knocking spirit” – a ghostly disturbance that the defendant’s counsel suggested was used to scare his client.

The Scott County Chancery Causes, 1816-1912, join the growing list of localities whose chancery causes have been preserved and made available through the library’s innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP). The CCRP, funded through a $1.50 of the clerk’s recordation fee, is committed to efforts, like the Scott County chancery causes digitization project, that preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court records.

“Unfortunately, the downturn in the real estate market and the General Assembly’s diversion of CCRP funds have negatively impacted the CCRP’s budget in recent years and slowed the pace of digital chancery projects,” Walters added. “The projects remain a high priority for the agency and it is hoped that the initiative can be resumed in full when the economy and the agency’s budget situation improve.”

To view the Scott County records, search the chancery records index at http://www.lva.virginia.gov/chancery/.

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