Thursday, March 29, 2012

Finding details in the most unlikely places...

How do you tell the story of your family when there are no diaries...
Courtesy NYPL Digital Gallery
The first thing I did was to look up my critical dates in historical newspapers available online. The first was the day Isaac Carter and his siblings appeared as orphans in the Craven County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Monday, December 12, 1853. On the very day that Isaac, Nancy, Annanias and Zach were bound as apprentices to William Temple there was a celebration in New York City. It was the seventeenth anniversary of the historic Colored Orphans Asylum at Hope Chapel, Broadway. 

Later in the week, I remembered how my New England Ancestors research conducted in the 1990s led me to interesting details uncovered in Estate Inventories. I decided to go to and look at some Craven County Estate Inventories to see if I could unearth anything related to my husband's ancestors. 

Below is how you may be able to locate estate records for your ancestors:
  1. Go to
  2. On the main page, scroll down to the country list and click on the country where your records are located (United States)
  3. On the left side of the next page you will find the state list. Click on the state where your records are located (North Carolina). Note that in parentheses to the right of the state is a number: the number of records collections available. North Carolina has (16).
  4. The next page that opens is the list of searchable records. You will note that those with a camera icon to the left of the title offer images of the records. Mine were located in North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1964. You will note that there are 68,762 records available.
  5. The title page for the collection will give you first name and last name search boxes; but, you can also search by EVENT or RELATIONSHIP. The last option is located at the bottom of the page: View Images in This Collection: Browse through images.
  6. The Browse through images link led me to a list of counties. From that list I selected Craven County.
  7. From there, a searchable surname letter list pops up, and I selected "C" for Carter. All estate records of people whose surname begins with "C" opens up, followed by the year of death/inventory/probate in parentheses. I found several Carters of interest: Abel Carter (1810), George Carter (1820) and William Carter (1867).
  8. Once you have located the images you need, the best thing to do is to save them and then edit in your photo editor (I use Picassa). I then printed full size legal copies, and also stored them in my photo viewer/editor.
What kinds of information can be gleaned from Estate Records?
As you can see, I was unable to locate any estate records for Isaac Carter, his father, nor any of his grandparents. So the information I found could not tell me about him directly; but the estate inventories did give me an idea of what life was like in that time period in that particular region.

One item I found listed in both Abel and George Carter's inventories 
was one "Spider" valued at 0...10...0.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as follows: 
A shallow, long-handled pan used for frying food. Also called skillet, ; also called regionally fry panspider.
REGIONAL NOTE   The terms frying pan and skillet are now virtually interchangeable, but there was a time when they were so regional as to be distinct dialect markers. Frying pan and the shortened version fry pan were once New England terms; frying pan is now in general use, as is the less common fry pan, now heard in the Atlantic states, the South, and the West, as well as New England. Skillet seems to have been confined to the Midland section of the country, including the Upper South. Its use is still concentrated there, but it is no longer used in that area alone, probably because of the national marketing of skillet dinner mixes. The term spider, originally denoting a type of frying pan that had long legs to hold it up over the coals, spread from New England westward to the Upper Northern states and down the coast to the South Atlantic states. It is still well known in both these regions, although it is now considered old-fashioned. See Note at andiron.
Another thing that Estate Records can help with is establishing family relationships. 
From these two records I was able to establish four relationships:
Three Razors and Shaving Box to Kelser Braddick  0 pounds...8 shillings...6 dollars
three powder horns to Kelser Bradddick   0 ... 1 ... 0

  1. Abel Carter's bequest was left to Isaac Carter's grandfather, Kelsor Braddock.
  2. Abel Carter was Isaac Carter's great grandfather.
  3. Kelsor Braddock's father, Peter Braddock, was Abel Carter neighbor and friend. Their children would've grown up together.
  4. William Carter was Issac's uncle: the brother of Isaac's father (Isaac). Their father's name was also Isaac; and his father was Abel Carter.

Besides relationships, we can also discover how one year affected a family's life.
1867 was the year of William Carter's death...but it was also the year of his nephew Isaac Carter's marriage.

I've a long way to go in order to recreate the time and space of Isaac Carter's life in the manner of Charles Hale's video: Breathing of an Ancestor's Time and Space. In his description he wrote:
When our ancestors leave few traces how can we learn of their lives, how can we get the true feel of things? 
My ancestors left little, there's an old funeral receipt, but there are no letters or mementos...just a smattering of photos is all that remains. 
By understanding the events that surrounded one incident in my grandfather's life I was able to get the feel of things; I was able to breathe from his space and time.