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In 1913, Mary Ella Gray stated in a deposition that she moved to her parents’ home in Fredericksburg after her husband James “continuously abused me, and was very profane to me and often told me that he bore for me no affection whatever, and I could pull up and leave whenever I got ready.”  Court documents show that, prior to reaching this point, happier times were evident in their marriage.

The Gray's marriage certificate found in a chancery court case in Spotsylvania County.

Like so many other Spotsylvania County chancery causes, Mary Ella Gray vs. James Oliver B. Gray, 1913, appeared to be a fairly routine divorce case; however, the marriage certificate was not so ordinary.

The couple was married in the District of Columbia on 1 November 1902.  The certificate is a noteworthy document, illustrative and colorful.  It cites a Bible verse, Ruth 4:13, describing the marriage of Ruth to Boaz, and features an illustration of Ruth gleaning barley in Boaz’s field.  The document was published by Jennings and Dye of Cincinnati, Ohio, printed in Germany.

Divorces were granted through county chancery courts.  The marriage certificate was included in the cause, possibly as an exhibit.  The Spotsylvania County Chancery Causes Collection contains about 40 cubic feet of records and covers the years circa 1811-1925.  It is currently closed for processing and will be digitized.

-Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist

Joanne Porter

Former Local Records Archivist


  • Have been anxiously awaiting word that the Spotsylvania County Chancery Cases have been digitized. Can you give me a progress report?
    This blog was written in Sept. 2010, it is now March 2011. Thank you in advance.

    • Dale says:

      Many thanks for your email inquiring about the status of the Spotsylvania County chancery causes. Since Joanne Porter’s post, those records have been fully processed and indexed by our archivists and a number of fragile documents are now awaiting conservation work in our in-house lab. When the conservation process is complete, the index will be loaded on the Chancery Records Index page (link below) for researchers to consult. Since we currently have a backlog of localities awaiting digitization, we expect to open the original Spotsylvania records to research in the manuscript room at the Library of Virginia. As the chancery collections currently being scanned are completed, we will slot Spotsylvania in line for scanning as soon as possible.
      Carl Childs
      Local Records Director
      The Library of Virginia

    • Dale says:

      You may have already noticed this but there is a “scanning in progress” section on the main Chancery Records Index page towards the bottom left. That will give you some idea of what is being scanned now.

  • Rachael S. says:

    That marriage certificate is beautiful!

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