Ohio Chancery Court Records

From 1802 until 1851, when the Ohio constitution established the probate court as a separate entity, probate matters fell under the jurisdiction of each county’s common pleas court. During this period, some matters dealing with inheritance and estates were decided by the county chancery court, a court also under the jurisdiction of the county’s common pleas court. Chancery court existed in each county until 1850 to 1860.

Chancery court provided a system of finding justice between two parties whose rights conflicted.It dealt with divorce, mortgage foreclosures, petitions to sell land, partition suits, and real property disputes. Although the estate packet in probate court may hold information on an early Ohio ancestor, frequently questions remain. More information may appear in a chancery case that dealt with partitioning the land among the heirs or in a case that petitioned the court to sell the land of the deceased. Often these cases gave death dates, names of heirs, relationships, residences, and descriptions of the land. 

Cases involving inheritance are many times indexed in the name of the administrator rather than in the name of the deceased. Therefore, all cases involving the surname of interest should be checked since the type of case cannot be determined by its title.The following abstracts, taken from Volume 1 of Sandusky County, Ohio, Chancery Court records, provide examples of information contained in the cases

“Rathbone vs. Jones,” 1828: Chaplain Rathbone stated that on April 1, 1823, Lyman Jones was leaving Lorain County, Ohio, to buy land in Sandusky County. Owing Rathbone money, Jones promised to purchase land for Rathbone while in Sandusky County. As agreed, Jones made several purchases, but entered all of the land in his own. name. In January of 1824, Rathbone came to the county and built a cabin on the land; however, Jones refused to transfer the title. In August 1824, Jones died and his wife died the following month.Two minor children, Ransom and Ami Ann, were their only heirs and were known to be living in New York. In order to inform the minors, the court ordered publication of the suit in the New York Buffalo Journal. The children eventually issued legal title to Rathbone. 

“Stone vs. Eaton,” 1837: Lucius Stone petitioned the court to partition land in sections 23 and 24 in Townsend Twp. [description given in record],containing 120 acres. Stone claimed his right to this land through inheritance of his wife, Clarinda, daughter of Polly Stone. A widow, Polly Stone, purchased the property at a public sale in Sandusky County. Polly died in 1832, leaving Clarinda Stone, Benjamin B. Eaton, and John Eaton as her heirs. Benjamin died without heirs, leaving his brother John Eaton, a minor, with an undivided one-half interest in the property. The chancery court ordered the land to be surveyed, appraised, and divided equally between the two surviving heirs, Clarinda Stone and John Eaton. 

Other types of suits can provide just as much excellent information, making this primary source one of importance, considering the small number of records available during Ohio’s frontier period. Since each county’s common pleas court always maintained jurisdiction over chancery court, the volumes can often be found within that court in Ohio counties today. Some counties have chosen to transfer these records to local archives or libraries. Others have been microfilmed.