The Brother-in-Law Conundrum

by | May 9, 2019 | 0 comments

The word “brother-in-law” is becoming the bane of my research.  In earlier times, the term “in-law” had a broader scope than is now the case.  Pretty much anyone related to you by marriage was an in-law.  Therefore, a brother-in-law could be one in the modern sense, a stepbrother, or even the brother of your brother’s wife/sister’s husband!  Unfortunately for me, this word has cropped up twice in my research in head-scratching circumstances.

James Ball, “brother-inlaw” of Captain Francis Brice

James and Magdalene Ball of Carteret County are my 8th great-grandparents. I descend from their granddaughter, Mary Ball Caton, wife of John Caton and mother of Lydia Dixon.  So I was justifiably excited when I learned there was a deed proving that Magdalene was a Brice.  From Carteret County Deed Book D, pg. 441:

Francis Brice to James Ball Deed of Gift

No. Carolina Carteret County.   Know all men by these prests. that I Capt. Francis Brice of ye province & County aforsd. planter out of true love favoure & affection I beare & carrey unto Jms. Ball my brother-inlaw of same County planter, have give & granted & by these prests. do give & grant unto ye sd. Jms. Ball his heirs excs & adms. or assigns three hundred acres of lying in ye above Countey, begining att a cypress Colverts corner tree, then down ye various courses of White Oak river to a red oke markt I13 one on side & F B on ye other side then No. 12 Et. 358 pole to a pine then So. 85 Wt. 131 pole to a pine, from thence to ye cypress the first station.

To have & to hold the sd. three hundred acres of land lying as aforsd. unto ye sd. James Ball his heirs excs. admns. or assigns for ever from me my heirs for ever & I hereby binde myself my heirs not to molest nor disturb ye sd. Jms. Ball & his foresaid in quiate possession of ye sd. land ? ye sd. Jms. Ball & his aforesaids are hereby oblidgd. to pay ye quit rents arising as becoming due upon ye sd. lands.

In wittness whereof I have signd. seald. these prests. this 22d. day of September Anno Dom. 1747 – Francis Brice

Seald. signd. & delivrd.
in ye prests. off uss
Charles Hay
Booth Jones

On ye oath of Chals. Hay of ye due execution of these deed let itt be registd. ye 10th March 1747. E. Hall C.J.

How does this prove anything?  All it does is state that the relationship exists.  This deed does nothing to clarify that relationship. It’s quite annoying.

Benjamin Lewis and “Brotherin Law William Staplefort”

Benjamin Lewis was my 5th great-grandfather.  In his will (Beaufort County Orphan Book A, pg. 270, or Beaufort Orphans: Book A, 1808-1828 by Betty J. Camin, pg. 91), dated 11 Mar 1817, he mentions his wife but does not give her name.  A common omission that never fails to irritate and annoy me.  Also mentioned are their two sons, Rowland and Tillman (my ancestor).  Census records indicate there was a daughter, but if there was, she is not mentioned.  At the end, he appoints “my Brotherin Law William Staplefort executor to this my Last Will & Testament….” 

In what way was Staplefort, of Stapleford as it’s more commonly spelled, Benjamin’s brother-in-law?  I know from Craven County marriage records that William’s wife was Mary Cuthrell.  Was Benjamin’s wife a Cuthrell or a Stapleford?  There is only one Lewis woman listed on the 1820 census in Beaufort County, Mary Lewis, with one boy under 10, one between 10 and 15, one girl under 10, one young woman 16-25, one woman 26-44, and one slave woman 26-44. It’s not unheard of for two siblings to have the same first name, especially half-siblings. 

Alternatively, Mrs. Lewis could have wed Mr. Stapleford or Mrs. Stapleford Mr. Lewis.  Benjamin was one of the securities for the administrator bond upon the Estate of Thomas Stapleford 6 Mar 1804.  I’m also aware of the presence in the area of Taylor, Keziah and Pembrooke Stapleford.  Thomas and Taylor, I’m fairly certain, were brothers.  How the others fit, including William, I don’t know. Talk about frustration.

A few years ago, I reached out to a person in possession of letters to William from his brother, Raymond, who moved to New Madrid, Missouri after the War of 1812 (Which baffles me. Why would anyone do that so soon after the earthquakes?), to see if there was mention of the Lewises, but they’ve never gotten back to me.

Just to add another level of irritation, when FamilySearch added Beaufort County land records, I found there was a deed from William to Benjamin in Deed Book 11, pg. 11.  But, as I’ve griped to Sara, I can’t find Book 11!  You’d think it would be between books 10 and 12, but it isn’t.

Will of Benjamin Lewis, pg. 1

Benj. Lewis Will, pg. 1

Will of Benjamin Lewis, pg. 2

Benj. Lewis Will, pg. 2

Francis Brice to James Ball

Brice to Ball



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