Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A Will to Find


Sometimes, it takes a solid will to accomplish the research task we wish to tackle. In my case this month, that will has to do with a document dated late in 1783 in Virginia—not an easy task for someone in the twenty-first century on the opposite end of the continent. The document was the will of John Carter of Spotsylvania, supposedly probated in that year, but drawn up in 1778. The hope is that it will provide a tidy listing of all his surviving children to help me in my January goal for my Twelve Most Wanted project.

Left to find such a document online may take some determination—not to mention perseverance, considering the chance that the two hundred forty year old court record might be available on a non-indexed microfilm at FamilySearch—if, that is, it hasn't already sustained water or mold damage, or been one of the brittle pages broken in pieces or missing altogether. 

Before we launch that paper chase, though, let's take a look at the names that might be on the record. For that, we'll turn to the work of a genealogy trailblazer, Joseph Lyon Miller, in the pages of his 1912 book, The Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of "Barford", Lancaster County, Virginia, 1652-1912. 

First, if we do manage to find John Carter's will, it should show us who received the patriarch's nod to inherit his residence. According to the Miller book, that would have been his daughter Margaret Chew Carter, my fourth great-grandmother. Margaret was one of five daughters born to John Carter and his second wife, Hannah Chew, according to the Miller book. If this list is correct, when we find their father's will, it will hopefully included the names of each of them: besides Margaret, Mary Beverley, Judith, Lucy, and Elizabeth Matilda. Along with those daughters of Hannah Chew, add one son, Robert.

Those were not the only children of John Carter, as he had several from a previous marriage, according to the Miller book. From his first wife, Elizabeth Armistead, there were two additional sons and six more daughters: William, Elizabeth, Frances, Martha, Anne, Margaret—that other daughter of the same name as my fourth great-grandmother, who previously caused the author some confusion—Sarah, and John junior.

While the Miller book appears to be well-researched, we need to take a look at the documents supporting those statements. In this case, the will of this particular John Carter—remember, Virginia had many by that name—is what we hope to find to corroborate the Miller text. And so, here I stand at the edge of a digital abyss in a hunt-and-peck mission to find John Carter's will in Spotsylvania, Virginia, from 1783.


  1. Hi Jacqi, I have a copy of John Carter's 1778 will from the Spotsylvania County Court. I had this mixed in with photocopies on my Ballard line, and had not looked at this set of copies in years, but found it today. It's a large size photocopy and I need to scan it & shrink it down to a manageable size. - Patrick

    1. Oh, the frustrations of keeping all that paperwork organized. Glad you found it!

  2. I found it on Ancestry! See the Virginia, US Wills & Probate Records for Spotsylvania County, Will Book E, 1772-1778, image 316 of 886 (starting with page 560 in the court records). There are multiple pages. Maybe this link will work: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/62347/images/007645806_00316?pId=2032659

    1. Thanks for sending that link, Patrick. The frustrating thing is: I had searched around that page when I found it at FamilySearch, but had so much trouble reading the copy, I decided to move on to 315 and move backwards through the file...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...