The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of Surry County 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 Surry County register contains some of the most delightful names that one may have had the opportunity to run across in a historical document. Could one of these fine folks be an ancestor of yours?
Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the oftentimes murky past to their enslaved ancestors. The registers date from 1866 and provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover. Cohabitation registers were the legal vehicles by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information about an individual person contained in a cohabitation register is literally priceless as it is often the first time that a former slave appeared officially in the public record and because of the extensive kinds of information that the register recorded.
Prior to the close of the Civil War, Virginia law provided no legal recognition for slave marriages. On 27 February 1866, the General Assembly enacted a law that entitled formerly enslaved people who had married during slavery to all of the rights and privileges as if they had been duly married by law and declared all of their children legitimate, whether born before or after the passage of this act. The surviving Virginia cohabitation registers recorded the name of the husband, his age, place of birth, residence, occupation, last owner, last owner’s city or county of residence, the name of the wife, her age, place of birth, residence, last owner, last owner’s city or county of residence, name of children with the ages of each, and the date of commencement of cohabitation.
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 27th February 1866.
The Surry County register, transcription, and searchable index 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.
-Sarah Nerney, Senior Local Records Archivist