Virginia’s historic records have always existed under the threat of floods, hurricanes, fire, and war. Sometimes the records were saved. Sometimes they were lost.
When the Botetourt County courthouse was gutted by a fire on 15 December 1970 no one at the time could foresee that such a horrible loss would spur the creation of legislation five years later that created a uniform system for records management in Virginia. The Virginia Public Records Act, passed in 1975, set in motion an effort not only to manage all the state’s records but also to preserve and copy vital historic records contained in local courthouses.
Preservation and duplication efforts continue today with The Library of Virginia’s (LVA) records managers and archivists. The Circuit Court Records Program (CCRP), which began in 1991, continues to not only preserve, digitize, and microfilm historic records from around the state but also to reach out to circuit court clerks in each locality, offering them professional support and financial assistance in the form of grants. To date, the CCRP has funded nearly 1,000 projects worth more than $15 million to preserve records in the circuit court clerks’ offices. Nineteen years later, access to Virginia’s historic records has never been wider with more than 5 million chancery court images now available online. Clerks also have the option of sending historic record collections to the archives which is housed in the Library of Virginia building in Richmond and the state-of-the-art State Records Center in Henrico County. Both buildings provide modern protections and temperature- and humidity-controlled environments. More than 75,000 cubic feet of records from the state, local records, and private papers collections reside in the state’s archive as do nearly 350,000 microforms in a specially-designed vault.
Fortunately the records stored in the Botetourt County courthouse vault survived, though with water damage as a result of the firefighting efforts. The Virginia Public Records Act follows the admonition of Thomas Jefferson who in 1791 wrote “…let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”
-Dale Dulaney, Local Records Archival Assistant