Courthouse Serendipity

In response to “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” #52Ancestors

About 5 years after I began the search for my family’s roots, I had an encounter in the courthouse in Rutherford County, North Carolina, that eventually solidified a theory about my 3x-great-grandfather Benjamin Lovelace, who was reportedly one of three sons of Barton Lovelace and Lucy Watson, originally of Montgomery County, Maryland. 

The theory accepted by most researchers had been that Benjamin and his two brothers Asa and Nathan had migrated from Maryland to Spartanburg District, South Carolina with their mother following the drowning death of their father Barton (THAT is another whole story too long to tell here).  The theory continued that Asa and Nathan, after coming of age, had moved across the state line into Rutherford County, raising large families there, and that their brother Benjamin had moved west to Kentucky.  There were pieces of evidence that cast doubt on the latter assertion. 

Several Lovelace men were present in later censuses in Rutherford County who were not traceable to either Nathan or Asa.  Other Lovelace researchers and I referred to them as “the Orphan Boys.” Asa’s descendants had been exhaustively researched, and I was not directly connected to him, and there was little known of the descendants of Nathan.  There was no firm evidence linking me to anyone further back than my 2x-great-grandfather William Lovelace, who was born circa 1816 in North Carolina according to census records. 

Benjamin Lovelace was said to have married and had a child in Kentucky at the same time (1815) that a land transaction was made wherein a Benjamin Lovelace bought land in Rutherford County from James Shearer.  This prompted the question:  Why would Benjamin have bought land in Rutherford County when he had an infant child in Kentucky?  I hypothesized that the Benjamin in Kentucky was not the Benjamin who bought the land from Shearer, and that Benjamin the son of Barton was actually the father of my 2x-great-grandfather William.  But after extensive research, I could find no evidence of Benjamin in census records or court records in Rutherford County.  There were several other Benjamins in those records, but they were all too young to have been the brother of Asa and Nathan.

On one trip to the Rutherford courthouse, I was examining documents with a cousin researcher, a descendant of Asa.  We were combing through voter registrations in the office of the clerk of court, and I happened to be chatting with one of the staffers, lamenting the fact that I could find nothing about Benjamin.  She asked me if I had been down to the basement to look through the books down there, and I said something along the lines of “There are books in a basement???”  She directed me down a rickety flight of stairs after providing me with a key to basement door.  There was a single light in the basement, a bare incandescent bulb in a socket swinging from the ceiling.  I turned on the light and saw shelves of books along the wall. 

Now in 1868, the court system in North Carolina was changed from the Court of Common Pleas to the Superior Court.  One of the first books I picked up in that musty old basement was the Executor Appointment Records, Volume 1 (AE-1 on the spine).  I turned to the index pages and thumbed to the page for “L.”  At the very top of the index was “Lovelace Benj. [?] Wm Scoggin [PG?] 1”.  Turning to page 1, I found the entry, the very first in the book, dated 21 September 1868.  You can see it on FamilySearch here:

The record states that Benjamin had died intestate.  My cousin and I consulted our records and found that we had no evidence pf a Benjamin who died in 1868.  We exchanged glances and asked myself, “Who is this guy?” 

This began a very long and involved search which eventually resulted in a conclusion that Benjamin had actually died before the 1850 census and that his wife Nancy, with the consent of their children, had been allowed to remain on the homestead until her death in the fall of 1868.  The clincher was a deed from one of their children, James, and his wife to William Scoggins, the administrator of Benjamin’s estate.  The deed can be viewed on FamilySearch here:

The deed shows that James and his wife sold their “undivided interest in the Real and personal estate belonging to the late Benjamin Lovelace, & Nancy Lovelace late deceased, the said interest … being the one seventh (1/7) part thereof.”  Not only did this connect Benjamin to Nancy, who had been listed in the 1850 census, but it connected James and indicated that there were six other descendants of Benjamin and Nancy who owned a share of their estate.

So, on that day in the courthouse, not only did I discover the clue which led to my connection to my 3x-great-grandfather Benjamin Lovelace, I cemented my “cousin” relationship to the descendant of Asa who accompanied me into that dark and musty basement full of books we didn’t know existed.  That relationship continues to this day, and we are both still working on unraveling the threads that may one day lead to the discovery of our immigrant ancestor, who supposedly immigrated to Maryland in the 1600s from England.

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