Monthly Archives: December 2011

- Mr. Christmas and his Flights of Fancy


The front-side view of the Christmas Bullet prior to its lethal first and only flight in 1918. (Image public domain/Wikipedia)

Former Local Records archivist Catherine OBrion was given the task of processing the chancery causes of Arlington (formerly Alexandria) County.  Perhaps the most interesting case that she discovered was a suit entitled Creed M. Fulton versus the Christmas Aeroplane Company, Inc. et al. The day after Christmas in 1910, Mr. Fulton, a lawyer from D.C., filed suit against the Christmas Aeroplane Company, the company’s founder William W. Christmas, and two other individuals—Lester C. McLeod and Thomas W. Buckey.  In the bill for the suit, William W. Christmas is described as the inventor of a heavier-than-air machine for the purpose of aerial navigation.  According to the document, Mr. Christmas informed the complainant that the aircraft “had been actually tried and was successful and that said machine had remained in the air for sometime.” 

In need of money to procure a patent and to build a practical machine for the purpose of “demonstrating the values and practicability of said invention,” all parties entered into an agreement on October 26, 1909, in Washington, D.C that would create the Christmas Aeroplane Company.  According to the agreement, money for the patent would be advanced and the others would aid William Christmas in raising funds to cover the actual cost of building a machine. After $1,200 was given for the patent, it became necessary for some of the parties to advance … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Mary L. Morst, No. 11033


Photograph of Mary L. Morst, #11033, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 162, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Mary L. Morst, the subject of this week’s post, was pregnant when she arrived at the Penitentiary.

In October 1912, Mary Morst was sentenced by the Pittsylvania County Circuit Court to 18 years in the Penitentiary for murdering her husband.  Morst’s mug shot, taken upon her arrival at the Penitentiary on 14 October 1912, clearly shows she is pregnant.  On 13 January 1913, Morst gave birth to twins:  Joseph and Martha.  What would happen to her children?

The Code of Virginia provided the answer.  Section 4124 of the Code stated that “an infant accompanying a convict mother to the penitentiary, or born after her imprisonment therein, shall be returned, on attaining the age of four years, to the county or city from which the mother came, to be disposed of as the County Court of said county…may order.”  The Penitentiary’s annual reports from 1875 to 1918 include a list of children in the Penitentiary.  The list includes the name of the child, date and place of birth, race, sex and name of mother.  An additional list of children in the Penitentiary from 1926 to 1932 can be found in the back of a Death Register (volume 124).  It is … read more »

- Archivist Road Show


Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society.

During the months of October and November, Local Records archivists delivered presentations on chancery suits to the Tazewell County Public Library, the Scott County Rotary Club, the Beautiful Older People in Dinwiddie County, and the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society. They shared with the attendees what chancery causes are and how they are useful not only for genealogy research but for learning local history as well.

The archivists offered numerous chancery suits as examples such as a Dinwiddie County case that involved the descendants of a free African-American doctor who also owned slaves; Tazewell County suits that referenced conflicts between the first settlers of Tazewell County and Native Americans; post-Civil War era Scott County suits that brought to light lingering bitterness between pro-Union and anti-Confederacy residents; and Middlesex County suits that showed slaves suing for their freedom. The archivists informed the attendees how they could access their locality’s chancery causes through the Chancery Records Index. The response to the presentations by attendees was very positive. Laurie Roberts, the director of the Tazewell County Public Library, commented: “You gave our audience an appreciation of the reflection of our social history we can find in this treasure trove of material and inspired us to delve into the records.”

If you are interested in scheduling a presentation by one of the Library’s Local Records archivists, please contact … read more »

- We’ll trade you Fairfax County for Mercer…Just kidding.

Bob Clay is shown seated at his desk in the old Virginia State Library and Archives (now the Library of Virginia) in this undated photo.

Many of the staff and researchers at the Library of Virginia remember our colleague and friend Robert Young Clay for his vast knowledge of the records in our collections.  Bob, who died last year, left his papers to the Library, and I recently completed processing them.  I knew Bob for about eight years before his retirement in 2001.  I recall how he assisted me with answers to some of my most puzzling questions, and seeing him helping patrons with their genealogical research.

I also remember his biting humor, lack of patience at times, the slamming of the phone receiver, and banging of a book against the reference desk.

But for those who never saw it, there was another side to Bob, and that comes across in some of the items contained in his papers. While much of the collection is made up of his research on the Clay family and its allied lines, there are also materials which demonstrate the personal side of Bob, a “kinder and gentler” side that not all staff or patrons may have seen.

Back in 1984, a certain reference archivist did not endear himself to officials in Fairfax County.  Business owners in Mercer County, West Virginia, were growing increasingly frustrated with state officials in Charleston.  There was even talk of the county rejoining the Commonwealth of Virginia.  “The way I … read more »

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- See Jefferson’s Papers Conserved!

 

The Executive Papers of Governor Thomas Jefferson, 1779-1781, have been named one of Virginia’s top ten endangered artifacts by the Virginia Association of Museums. The letters and manuscripts documenting Jefferson’s service as the second governor of Virginia address the challenges he faced during the Revolutionary War, the drafting of the Articles of Confederation, the negotiation of the boundaries of Virginia and her neighbors, and the dangers of the frontier. The papers are currently undergoing conservation treatments thanks in part to a $110, 000 grant received from Save America’s Treasures.  Watch as the video shows Leslie Courtois, Senior Conservator with Etherington Conservation Services, as she works to restore these valuable records in the Library of Virginia’s conservation labs. Thanks to Paige Neal for her script writing and narrating, to videographer Pierre Courtois, and to Audrey Johnson and Dale Neighbors of Special Collections for providing images. For more information on the collection and grant see the earlier blog post “Grant Allows Jefferson’s Papers to be Preserved.”read more »

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- Cohabitation Registers Added to Digital Collection


Goochland Co. Regsiter of Colored Persons Cohabiting, 1866, information includes ages, occupations, names of slave owners, and names of children the couple had together or from a previous relationship.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of records from Fluvanna, Goochland, and Montgomery Counties to the cohabitation register digitization project.  This project, via the Virginia Memory website, aims to index, digitize, transcribe, and provide access to all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit.

The cohabitation registers were the legal vehicles by which formerly enslaved couples legitimized their pre-slavery marriages and the children of unions that no longer existed in 1866 due to death or other circumstances such as the wife being sold away.  These records are invaluable resources for genealogists and historians alike.

Goochland and Montgomery have to date only uncovered their cohabitation registers.  Fluvanna, however, includes both the cohabitation register and the register of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit by 1866.  The registers, transcriptions, and searchable indexes are available online along with the other registers from Virginia localities in the Cohabitation Register Digital Collection in Virginia Memory. To find it use either the link provided or go to Virginia Memory, choose Digital Collections, then Collections A to Z, and finally Cohabitation Registers.

For more information on the cohabitation registers, see an earlier blog post Solid Genealogical Gold, about the Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27read more »

- “Have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!”



The wool of Merino sheep was highly prized and for centuries the flocks were not allowed to be exported from their home in Spain. One of the few individuals to get Merinos into the United States was U.S. minister to Spain David Humphreys, who imported twenty-five rams and seventy-five ewes to his home in Connecticut in 1802. The Library of Virginia has a copy of Humphreys’s 1804 book The miscellaneous works of David Humphreys, late minister plenipotentiary —to the court of Madrid, which contains an essay on Merino sheep. Thomas Jefferson was also particularly interested in the improvements of sheep herds and by 1810 had acquired his own herd of Merino sheep. The demand for Merinos soon reached manic proportions, a bubble was created, and like all bubbles there was a crash. (For more on this subject see Monticello’s article on sheep.)

Amongst the Cowling Papers found in the City of Richmond records is a letter dated 14 August 1827 from William DuVal (1748-1842), a Virginia lawyer, legislator, and planter, to Willis Cowling (1788-1828), a Richmond cabinetmaker. Enclosed in the letter is a sample of Merino wool. DuVal wrote to ask Cowling if he would sell two hundred pounds of Merino wool to buy material for slave clothing. Cowling was a good choice for carrying out DuVal’s request as he regularly dealt with merchants … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Will Liddle, No. 6484 and No. 7341


Photograph of Will Liddle, #6484, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 73, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Will Liddle, the subject of this week’s post, served two nearly back-to-back terms, escaped for 20 minutes and was paroled in 1913.

On 4 April 1906, 24-year-old Will Liddle entered the Virginia Penitentiary to serve his one-year sentence for writing a bad check in Tazewell County.  He was discharged on 15 February 1907.  His freedom was short lived.  Liddle returned to the Penitentiary on 21 September 1907 to begin serving a three-year term for stealing a mule.  He also was given an extra five years for his second conviction.   Liddle’s good behavior quickly earned him “trusty” status which provided him with extra privileges.  In the spring of 1908, Liddle’s trusted status allowed him to assist some carpenters working on the outside of the Penitentiary and the opportunity to escape.  On 12 June 1908,  Liddle, under the guise of going to the tool box, used a crowbar to break into the carpenter’s storage room.  He put on a carpenter’s suit over his prison clothes and walked away from the prison.  The guards quickly noticed his absence and sounded the alarm.  After a 20 minute search Liddle was recaptured four blocks away.  Those 20 minutes of “freedom” added an extra year … read more »