The law was abolished in South Carolina in 1791, with the new law giving the widow one third of the land and the remaining land divided equally among the children (or the children’s heirs, if any of the child/children predeceased the land division.)
When a land owner died intestate, a probate/estate record was usually created, with an administrator appointed to oversee the business of settlement the estate, including the disposition of the land of the deceased.
These records may contain anything from a few small receipts to several hundred pages. Many of them are filled with land record documents.
A widow could petition the court for her “dower right” (her one third of the land). (This should not be confused with “dowry” which was personal and/or real property that the bride brought into the marriage.) One may also find a record in which the widow waives her dower right.
Quite often one finds a plat of the land division, showing the land received by each heir. This could prove the relationship between father and child when the children are not listed elsewhere.
Lands after inheritance
If the heirs elected to sell the land, the deed would contain the signature or “X mark” of each of the heirs. Since land left to a married woman also belonged to her husband, his signature or mark was also required, and often a phrase included indicating that the two were man and wife.
For example, a deed might read, “Nancy Sumner, since married to John Ray” or “John Jones and wife Susan.” A deed recorded in the index with the name followed by “et al” indicated that more than one person has signed the deed as grantor and usually indicates that all the heirs have signed.
This can be a real treasure for the genealogist, as one can learn the spouses and married name of female family members, and even the children of deceased siblings from such a deed.
We should note that when a woman married, her property became her spouse’s as well. He could not sell the land without her permission, and in the event that the land was sold, the wife would be questioned in private to make certain that she was in agreement with the sale. This is usually a part of the deed, often following the main body of the deed itself.
Researchers can be thankful when there was a dispute involving inherited land, as this usually generated lengthy court cases which in turn generated many documents of value to the researcher, as these may contain family information not found elsewhere.
There are a few terms which researchers need to know to be able to understand some of the terminology in deed records. These include: Femme Sole, an unmarried woman; Free Trader, a married woman with the right to buy and sell property; and release of dower, the waiving of one’s dower right to the land.