Probate Records: have you looked at the vouchers?

Most researchers who have used probate records know about the value of inventories and appraisements, annual returns, sales and distributions — all of which may provide lists of the enslaved, along with details of crucial events in their lives.   Often overlooked are the vouchers.  Where these have been preserved or recorded, they often provide more details about slaves and slavery.  Vouchers were the detailed accounts and receipts for expenses by the estate.  The annual returns will list these expenses, but the vouchers break down each expense; for instance, a return may list money paid to a merchant, but the supporting voucher will itemize each item bought from the merchant.  Sometimes the enslaved are named as the purchasers (either running errands for masters, or charging items for themselves).  Other vouchers preserve medical treatment for the enslaved (usually by name), rewards paid for recovering runaways, and sometimes money paid to the enslaved as midwives or as vendors.

For example, vouchers are among the court records for the estate of Thomas W. Riviere in Upson County, Georgia, probated in 1859.  The estate inventory, dated November 15, 1859, listed sixty slaves, among whom were a man, Ben, appraised at $1,000, and Lyddy and three children appraised at $1,900.   Lyddy’s children identified by name in the probate records include Ellick, Frances, Smart, Make, and Silva.  Vouchers include doctors’ bill dating back as 1853, documenting medical treatment for Ben, Lyddy (variously spelled Lydia and Lidda)  and Ellick, including two bills for attending Lyddy in childbirth:  “visiting Lidda [$]2.00 attention on Parturition [$]10.00″ billed by Doctors Drake and Flewellen on March 31, 1853; and “visiting Lydia at night [$]2.00 attention & Delivering Foetus [$]10.00″  billed by Drake & Flewellen on February 23, 1855.  I had previously tentatively identified these two births as Ellick and Frances.  Medical bills are wonderful documents for genealogists to approximate the birthdates of enslaved children.

I recently completed extracting slavery information from four volumes of recorded vouchers covering the last 15 years of Upson County slavery — there were many gems among the dross.  Vouchers are well worth the attention of researchers while they are examining probate records.

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