Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Rookie Researcher Mistake

A little over a year ago, I wrote about my maybe sixth great-grandparents Joseph and Sarah Kirk, and the farm they leased beginning in 1773 in Berkeley County, (West) Virginia [see Locating an 18th Century Farm Using Colonial Wayfinding Descriptions].

Joseph Kirk died in about 1783 or 1784. His widow, Sarah, continued to lease the farm.

Following the trail of Colonial-era land records, I discovered that Ferdinand Fairfax - the owner of the 100-acre farm leased to the Kirks - sold the property on September 7, 1798 to Nicholas Roush.

1798 Berkeley County land deed: Fairfax sells 100 acres to Roush

Deed of sale to Roush mentions the land was originally leased to Joseph Kirk

The sale came 25 years after Joseph Kirk initially signed a lease for life. A year ago, I speculated that the land was sold to Roush because Sarah Kirk had passed away.

That was a careless inferred mistake.

I recently returned to the record, and conducted a more thorough and thoughtful review. Although the deed states early on that the land was originally leased by Joseph Kirk, the end of the document includes a brief but important mention about the Kirks.

The deed transfered all rights of ownership from Fairfax to Roush with no encumbrances, but with one curious exception:

"...the said Kirks lease till set aside being only excepted."

Kirk lease the only exception to the deed

So the Kirk lease appears to have remained an active commitment still honored despite the change of ownership. Sarah Kirk was presumably still alive.

The Berkeley County court minutes include two petitions - dated after the land sale to Roush - between Fairfax and the Kirks. Unfortunately, the entries are so vague it's difficult to determine the nature of the petitions brought before the court.

November 29, 1798 - Berkeley County, (W) Virginia court minutes
Fairfax v. Kirk
May 31, 1799 - Berkeley County, (W) Virginia court minutes
Fairfax v. Kirk

The May 1799 petition appears to have been continued, but I haven't located further mentions in the court minutes.

Who was the Kirk being called into court? Was it Sarah? Or was it a child and heir?

Were there no further appearances in the minutes because Sarah finally passed away? I don't have enough information to draw a conclusion.

But I stand chastened and reminded to read every single word and pay close attention to what the record is telling me. A rookie researcher mistake - now discovered - has given new life to my sixth great-grandmother.


  1. Thank you, Michael. Openly admitting a rookie researcher mistake not only shows you've improved your methods but all helps educate the people who are starting out. When I review the court minutes I wonder where the supporting documentation can be found. Chancery? These don't appear to be available online on FamilySearch for most West Virginia counties. But I keep checking the catalog.

    1. I've found that some of the petitions in the court minutes are detailed in the court order books, providing some additional insights (although not consistently).

      Unfortunately, as I was going through Berkeley County's digitized court orders last week at the Family History Library I discovered that several years - critical to my research - have gone missing. It's the Kirk Family curse, something I believe in with more fervor as my research is continually thwarted by roadblocks such as courthouse fires and lost records. ;)

  2. Thanks for sharing, Michael. It makes me feel better for all those things I've overlooked on a first (and second and third) reading---like the obituary I recently posted without realizing that it named the husband of the deceased. I had never realized she'd married because her husband had the same surname as her birth surname...

    1. Alas, us family historians, no matter how passionate we are about our research, make mistakes. But we're persistent and eventually get ourselves back onto the right track!