Monthly Archives: June 2010

- Blame It On Rio

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Transcript of document shown above.

As I was inventorying a collection of federal records housed at the Library, I stumbled upon a box of papers that did not seem to fit with the rest of the collection. I pulled the box, searched our catalog, and found an entry for the microfilm copy of the collection (Henry A. Wise Papers, Accession 36084, Miscellaneous Reel 421). I then decided to read through the papers to see if I could enhance the existing catalog record with more complete information. What I found was a very interesting piece of United States and South American history.

Henry A. Wise (1806-1876) was born in Accomack County, Virginia, to Major John Wise (d. 1812) and Sarah Corbin Cropper Wise (d. 1813). A lawyer who trained under Henry St. George Tucker and practiced in Tennessee and Virginia, he served for 11 years in the United States House of Representatives. In 1844 he was appointed by President John Tyler as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to Brazil. During his time in this position, his somewhat overzealous and improper dealings with Brazil offended Emperor Pedro II and led to his being recalled in 1847.

By reading the notes and letters in this collection one can trace the escalating tensions between Wise and … read more »

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- Chancery, Pie, Road Trip

Augusta meringues

A group of Library of Virginia (LVA) archivists recently traveled to Staunton, Virginia, to visit the Augusta County courthouse.  Their goal was to transfer more than 300 boxes of the county’s earliest chancery records in order to begin a large digital scanning project.  Their lunchtime reward was the giant meringue pie at The Beverley restaurant two blocks away.

Augusta County’s chancery records hold special importance to Virginia and the country. The collection begins in 1745 and covers a period of time when the county stretched north to the Great Lakes and west to the Mississippi River – a large part of the early American frontier. County court was often held in what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The scope of the scanning project is enormous and will result in close to a million digital images being added to the Chancery Records Index (CRI) on Virginia Memory. LVA Local Records archivists will review the more than 340 legal-sized Hollinger boxes to ensure that they are up to current processing standards. These boxes comprise the part of the chancery collection from 1745 to 1866. In June 2008, a team of archivists at the LVA completed a processing and indexing project that yielded an additional 659 legal-sized Hollinger boxes of Augusta County chancery, covering the years 1867-1912.

Scanning more than 1,000 boxes of Augusta County chancery records will … read more »

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- Solid Genealogical Gold

Harper's Weekly sent artists south to document life in the post-war southern states.

Genealogists researching enslaved African Americans face serious challenges. Records that exist for the free population do not exist for the enslaved since slaves were considered property and were prohibited from reading, writing, owning land, or even legally marrying. This is why Virginia’s few surviving cohabitation registers are so important.

The Library of Virginia recently conserved the Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866 at the request of John Graham, Smyth County Clerk of the Circuit Court. It is one of only twenty one cohabitation registers known to exist and is included in the Library’s cohabitation register digitization project.  This project aims to digitize, transcribe, and make available via the Virginia Memory website the images of all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit.

Prior to the Civil War, Virginia law provided no legal recognition for slave marriages.  What is certain and what documents like the cohabitation registers reveal is that slaves did marry and consider themselves to be married in spite of the lack of legal protection and recognition.  In 1865, Commissioner Oliver Otis Howard of the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau) directed the assistant commissioners of the states to order the county clerks to … read more »

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- Virginia’s Web Archive

Holy Cow. Image of Mark Warner from the Office of the Governor (2002-2006), Press Office, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia

Holy Cow. Image of Mark Warner from the Office of the Governor (2002-2006), Press Office, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia

Looking for the Web site of Governor Tim Kaine (2006-2010), which was taken down at the end of his term?  The Library of Virginia can help.  The Web sites of the Kaine Administration (Governor, First Lady, Cabinet Secretaries, and his initiatives) are preserved as part of the LVA’s Virginia Web Archive.

Since 2005, the LVA has been “archiving” Web sites of enduring cultural value, especially those created and maintained by Virginia government. We started with the administration of Governor Mark Warner (2002-2006) and expanded into special topics of Virginia interest, such as the 2006 Senate race between George Allen and Jim Webb, the 2007 and 2009 General Assembly elections, the 2008 Congressional elections, and the Virginia Tech tragedy.  We are already archiving Web sites of the Governor Bob McDonnell Administration, Virginia’s 2010 Congressional candidates, and various organizations that have donated their paper records to the Library.

The Virginia Web Archive can be accessed from Virginia Memory under Digital Collections.

-Roger Christman, LVA Senior State Records Archivist

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- Russell County Chancery Causes Now Available

The Library of Virginia (LVA) is pleased to announce the completion of an additional digital scanning project.  The processing, indexing, and digital reformatting of the Russell County chancery causes is now complete.  The images have been added to the Chancery Records Index (CRI) on Virginia Memory.  The Russell County chancery images span the years 1864 through 1933 (the index covers through 1960).

This locality joins forty-four counties and cities whose chancery causes have been digitally reformatted and made available through the Library’s innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, which seeks to preserve the historic records of Virginia’s Circuit Courts.

To date, the Library of Virginia has posted over 4.8 million digital chancery images.  Additional localities are presently being scanned and will be posted in the coming months.  However, due to the recent budget reductions to the Library of Virginia’s budget, the pace of the agency’s digital chancery projects will necessarily proceed more slowly.  Please know these projects remain a very high priority for the agency and it is hoped that the initiative can be resumed in full when the economy and the agency’s budget situation improve.  Please see the Chancery Records Index for a listing of the available locality chancery collections.

Chancery causes are cases that are decided on the basis of equity and fairness as opposed to the strictly formulated rules of common … read more »

- “I’m not sure that I ought to say all these things…”

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Founded in 1928, the original intent of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was to promote positive relations among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Over the ensuing decades, the group had to figure out whether its stated focus on “the brotherhood of mankind under the fatherhood of God” also encompassed racial unity. Dissent and confusion within the organization led to a lack of clarity in the public eye as to its mission.

On 15 September 1956, Richmond Times-Dispatch editor Virginius Dabney (1901-1995) forwarded to longtime NCCJ Virginia Region Director Peter Mellette (1920-1993) this draft of a letter to NCCJ President Everett Clinchy. In it, Dabney pointed out the ambiguous implications of the word “brotherhood,” and cautioned Clinchy that the organization’s endorsement of racially-focused literature “can not fail to embarrass those of us in the South who are trying to work with you.”

Dabney was labeled a Southern liberal early in his career, partly because of his progressive views on race issues. By the mid-1950s, his interest in equality for African Americans was intact, but he favored a gradualistic approach. Interestingly, even as he advised the NCCJ to reconsider its message, Dabney himself was about to be limited in the full expression of his own views.

In 1956, Virginia embarked on the path of “Massive Resistance,” the state’s notorious attempt to thwart school … read more »

- Origami, Poem Signify Big Change in Fairfax

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Not all records in the archives are on yellowed paper or centuries old.

Correspondence found in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Records gives unique insight into the recent history of Virginia’s most populous county, which now has one of the highest household median incomes in the country.

New York City native Audrey Moore came to Fairfax County in 1954 when the county still retained much of its original rural character.  The young, apolitical wife and mother became concerned about what she saw as unchecked development in the county with little thought about future consequences for residents’ quality of life.

Moore decided to take on the county and spoke out on what were politically unpopular issues at the time. She ran for and won a seat on the board of supervisors in 1971.  For many years Moore was an isolated and often ridiculed figure on the board, the lone voice opposing runaway growth, warning about future transportation nightmares, and advocating for more parks and open spaces.  Her election in 1987 as chairperson of the Board of Supervisors marked the beginning of a remarkable planned-growth revolution in Fairfax County.

This enthusiastic letter to Moore by supporter and first-time campaign worker Anne Shotwell contains a poem and, charmingly, an origami crane. Both reside in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Records series, under subseries Correspondence–Audrey … read more »

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- Remembering Robert Clay

Robert Clay

Robert Clay, a familiar face to anyone conducting archival research at the Library of Virginia from 1970 until his retirement in 2001, died May 6, 2010.  I had the pleasure of working with Bob for the first two years of my employment at the Library in the late 1990s.  As a new member of the archives reference staff, I had much to learn and Bob was an excellent teacher.  I bombarded him with questions about Virginia Land Office patents and grants, Revolutionary War bounty warrants, Confederate pensions, chancery causes, and tithables.  He patiently and graciously answered every one of my many queries.  I also watched him work with patrons and marveled at his ability to deal with any situation (good or bad) without losing his good humor.  My favorite memory of Bob involves a reference call I received concerning coat of arms.  Let’s just say that the caller was…..difficult; my lack of knowledge on the subject did not help matters.  Unable to answer the caller’s questions to their satisfaction, I transferred the call to Bob.  Later, when I followed up with him in order to learn more about the topic, he looked at me, smiled and in a mischievous voice said “don’t ever do that again.” He then handed me this sketch!

Please use the comment section of this post to share your memories … read more »

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- Out of the Box!

Every box of records that arrives at the Library of Virginia (LVA) is full of possibilities. We never know what we are going to find in even the most seemingly mundane record series. A joy of our work is sharing with colleagues and friends the images, documents, and stories that pique our interest as we process the collection. The LVA’s archivists want to share these discoveries with those outside our professional circle.

The LVA wears many hats in its service to the state. As the state archive it houses official records of the commonwealth, its counties, and independent cities along with a significant collection of private papers. The archivists of the LVA work not only to preserve the state’s documentary heritage but are also dedicated to providing access to its unmatched collection of more than 109 million diverse items ranging from official government documents to family letters, from royal land grants on parchment to former Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration websites.

A blog is the perfect format for us to share our finds and illuminate the practical side of the archival profession as practiced here. It is a natural outgrowth of the LVA’s use of technology to expand access to the collection outside the reading rooms. Visit often. Make comments. Share your stories. We will update the blog every week with a new entry.… read more »

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