Indentures, Property Transactions and Wills Registered with the Southern District Court
In 2011 and again in 2014 and 2016 I spent several days each year reviewing the seven Volumes of registers of the Southern District Court that are in the collection of the Registry of Deeds in St. John’s. These seven Volumes cover a period from approximately 1824 to 1900 or thereabouts. After that time all land transactions were recorded directly at the Registry of Deeds rather than the Southern District Court and Wills were recorded at the Supreme Court Probate Office. Prior to that time it is pretty well anyone’s guess where they were recorded, if they were officially recorded at all.
It should be noted that there are also records from the Southern District in the collection held at The Rooms. This apparent duplication by the two organisations has to do with two distinctions: the first a matter of timing, the second a matter of content. The records at The Rooms are those of the “Surrogate Court, Southern District”. Surrogate Courts, presided over by local appointees with no training in law, predated the existence of the more formal court system for the regions of the colony which was adopted in 1818 as subsidiaries of the Supreme Court in St. John’s. The Stipendiary Magistrates who presided over the latter were also seldom trained in law at the outset, though that changed over time. Secondly, the Surrogate Court Records held at The Rooms covered many more legal issues than the wills, indentures and land transactions that form the focus of the collections at the Registry of Deeds.
In the course of my visits to the Registry of Deeds, I noted down from the indexes of these volumes any entries that might be of interest to my paternal lineage (Morry and Carter primarily, though also Windsors and others to a lesser extent). I at first made copies of these documents using the self-serve photocopy machine but found that, because of the way the Volumes were bound, in many instances the inner side of the pages was being left out entirely or was blurred. I therefore violated Registry rules and made photographs and scans with a handheld scanner of some documents before I was told to cease and desist. Some of those scanned copies were much better than the photocopies but unfortunately this process is deemed more harmful to the original documents apparently, though it is hard to see how that could be possible. Clearly this is not so. These seven old volumes are in deplorable condition with the spines broken and pages at risk of falling out and being misplaced due to attempts by users to make useful photocopies.
Apparently there is a plan afoot to have all of these older documents scanned professionally so that they can be accessed by computer, as is the case for modern land registers already. I have obtained one such copy from Steve Barnable at the Lands Directorate and it is head and shoulders better than a photocopy or even my own non-professional scans, so the day when all of these have been rendered in this fashion cannot come too soon for researchers and those concerned about the preservation of these historical documents.
In total, I have made copies of 59 documents from Volumes one through six. Volume seven does not contain any documents directly pertinent to my family, focussing more on the business families associated with my own ancestors, which were more in the forefront at the end of the 19th century (Tessier, Clift, LeMessurier etc.). Upon closer examination, several of the documents proved to be irrelevant to my family but, having gone to the trouble and expense of making a copy, I have retained that copy in hopes that it will be more useful to other researchers who do not have the opportunity to visit the Registry personally.
Documents photocopied or scanned at the Registry of Deeds in St. John’s in 2011, 2014 and 2016
The list that follows is a short form index of all documents at the Registry of Deeds in Volumes 1-6 of the Southern District Court (SDC) that I have copied and that are available in PDF form. I have now transcribed all of these and made them into MS Word files, though some I did not need to transcribe as Kevin Reddigan had already done so.
The entries indicate the source (SDC Volume), the pages (referred to as Folios) on which those documents appear in the Volume, the names of the principals involved, and the date in the form dd-mm-yyyy. In many cases there are several dates on each document as it passed through various stages of being prepared, registered and approved by the court. The date given is therefore approximate. The names shown are as they appear in the document in question, though I have abbreviated some longer names by using initials and though in many cases the spelling in the document is incorrect as we know it.
Note that I have ordered the documents by Volume and Folio except, where it existed in Volume 2 only, that I have reordered them by document number (No). The documents in that Volume were given a sequential number but often appeared out of chronological order in the Volume so that Document No and Fol are not necessarily in synchrony with one another. Almost all documents occupied more than one page (Fol) but in a very few instances they took up only a single page and, in those cases, FOL will be followed by a single page number.
Finally, I can only apologise for the poor quality of some of these copies. I did the best that I could considering the primitive copying conditions and rules that presently exist at the Registry of Deeds. The transcripts reflect the poor quality of the photocopies in some instances, with gaps or question marks where words were either cut off or undecipherable.