Thursday, February 10, 2011

Collection Highlight : Chancery Records

Most historians have heard of courts such as probate and circuit, but in many jurisdictions there was another court with which we are less familiar : Chancery Court.  Simply, chancery is a court of public record.  In some areas it may also have been referred to as the Court of Common Pleas. 

In Michigan, Chancery Courts presided over several kinds of cases including intestate (no will) estates, land disputes, dissolution of business partnerships, and divorces.  These files, which can date back to the county's earliest records, usually begin with a Bill of Complaint, and can be a very rich source of genealogical & historical information.

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) microfilm collection includes select Chancery Records for Allegan, Cass, and Van Buren Counties, Michigan, all of which were filmed by the Family History Center in Salt Lake City.  Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties will be added as funds allow.  The library sponsors an Adopt-A-Microfilm project whereby individuals may donate money toward the permanent retention of select records for the Local History Collection.

In the April 23, 1850, Bill of Complaint  featured here, Emeline Van Antwerp of Paw Paw is suing her husband, Jacob H., for divorce.  The documents of the day were typically hand-written and full of colorful information.  For those that have searched for a divorce case in Van Buren County's Circuit Court and did not locate one, Chancery Court files are another place to look. 

Researchers may view these and other microfilm in the Local History Collection.  Some of these records have indexes, some are simply organized chronologically. For more information about these films or the Adopt-A-Microfilm project, contact the library.