Lately, upon a recent trip to the archives here in Raleigh, I met a couple who were very frustrated by their genealogical discoveries concerning "orphaned" children who had living parents. I sympathized with them because I had encountered this situation in my own research. In order to understand this strange arrangement, one has to learn a bit about the estates laws of that time and just how underage children who were to inherit property through one (or both) of their parents were dealt with by state law upon the death of that parent. Widows whose husbands died intestate (without a will) also endured unsympathetic and, at times, harrowing treatment by these laws within weeks after their husbands' demise, often experiencing entire households being sold out from under them to settle debts and satisfy what was called the widow's "dowry". Her dowry amounted to no more than one third of her husband's estate. Estate laws of the time appeared unfavorable to anyone but the court system, but were designed to keep orphans, widows, illigitimates and others off public support while protecting their inheritances.
Ms. Myrtle Bridges (http://home.att.net/~hbridges/myrtle.htm) sent me a copy of the article below, and it explains much of the estates laws of that day. With thanks to Ms. Bridges and its author, Helen Leary, I transcribe it with citations for those researchers who are having the same problem of understanding the plight of their bereaved ancestors.
From "Gurardians and Conservators" page 189-190. North Carolina Research – Genealogy and Local History, Second Editioin by Helen F. M. Leary, C.G., F.A.S.G. Editor at NC Archives.
Property might be inherited by persons unable to handle it because of age or infirmity. In these cases, probate authorities appointed guardians, conservators, receivers, trustees, or collectors to manage the property for the benefit of its owner. Receivers, often the clerks of superior court, might be authorized to hold and manage the property of minors and others, but normally guardians were appointed. Persons under the care of guardians were called wards.
Researchers will be concerned most often with guardians of orphans. An orphan