In the journal Southside Virginian Volume: VI page 129 reads in part:

Orphans Docket to August Court 1764: Guardian: Jordan Knight; Orphan: Richd. Knight; Of Whom: John Knight; Aug 1764: dism.

What does dism. stand for? I could imagine Dismissed but don't know what that would mean in orphan court.

In the case of Richard Knight, a later record on page 133 shows dismt.:

Orphans Docket to August Court 1766: Guardian: Jerdon Knight; Orphan: Richd. Knight; Of Whom: John Knight; Aug 1766: dismt.

Is dism. the same as dismt. or are there two different abbreviations here?

Then later for Richard, on page 134:

Orphans Docket to August Court 1767: Guardian: Jordan Knight; Orphan: Richard Knight; Of Whom: Jno. Knight; Aug 1768: of age.

So he appears to be aged 21 on or before August 1768. Were the earlier entries reaffirming his orphan status and that he was not 21 yet in August 1764 nor August 1766 and thus apparently born between August 1745 and August 1747 (assuming 21 years to be of age).

2 Answers 2


My experience is primarily with Pennsylvania's orphans court. However, this makes it seem that the answer to your question, for the context of Virginia, is yes, the child would have been an orphan if he was being handled by the VA orphans court (see around page 31).

I don't see anything there that actually specifies the specific age of majority, but this seems to come close, from page 18 :

their Parish, whose parents are unable to bring them up; Such poor children may, by the county courts be bound apprentices the Males 'til 21, and Female 'til 18 years of age to Tradesmen, or any necessary Employment.

It's discussing the ages of poor children, but also in a context that's covering orphans, with the latter being differentiated in that they had property enough to warrant a guardian and protection by the orphan's court.

I would interpret "dism" and "dismt" in the same way, as "dismissed". I would view that, for this purpose, as saying that the court had jurisdiction (ie, the child was still a minor), but not evidence of anything else, without details of each case. See this for an example in Virginia of a valid orphan petitioning the court, and the case being dismissed.

However, and this may be a typo in the question, but "apparently born between August 1766 and August 1768"; I would disagree. I would instead interpret that as "some time between August 1766 and August 1768 reached the age of majority."

  • Corrected typo in my question of born between dates.
    – WilliamKF
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 15:32
  • Please make your link titles transparent rather than saying "this" or "this page". Putting the article name in the link title makes it easier for people to read your answer and see what sources you've consulted already, especially people using screen readers.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 18:33
  • The link text has nothing to do with screen readers. That is what the aria-label attribute is for; doesn't look like stackexchange's markup supports it. I'm not sure why the answer isn't showing the references section either; that exists for the purpose you're describing.
    – BrianFreud
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 20:52

This is intended to be a more general answer, to help others who may have a similar problem.

Judy G. Russell's advice (posted 4 oct 2021) is apt: "For heaven’s sake, look at the law!" When the Answer is Right There

Also, keep in mind that the word orphan doesn't mean what it means in the 21st century. In "Carried to the Orphans Court", Judy G. Russell reminds us:

... the word “orphan” in 18th century America didn’t mean a child without any living parent. It meant, most particularly, a child whose father had died. [Footnote 7] Black, A Dictionary of Law, 857, “orphan.”

(Side note on writing a complete citation of Black's Law Dictionary, see: Citing Black's Law Dictionary, posted by Judy G. Russell on 12 Jan 2012.)

Most records arise either because of laws mandating they be kept or to keep track of money, or both. If you can find the statutes involved, they are likely to reveal the answer to questions about what any pesky abbreviations mean, and you'll gain a better understanding of the record. Contemporary dictionaries, or as close as you can get, can answer the question of what unfamiliar legal terms meant.

Also of interest to researchers working in Virginia: Order in Virginia Courts,posted 2 Apr 2019, where Judy G. Russell talks about how some early Virginia courts have two sets of books -- order books and minute books.


In short: if you have a question about the law, for heaven's sake, start by searching The Legal Genealogist to see if Judy G. Russell has already covered the topic, or has links to resources you need.

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