The Courthouse Adventures of Morgan P. Robinson

Martinsville courthouse. In 1915, Richmond native Morgan P. Robinson became the chief of the Archives Department at the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia); three years later he was appointed the first state archivist. Almost immediately he began surveying the city and county courthouses to determine the completeness of their holdings. During these examinations he also rated the environmental conditions at each facility and noted whatever other observations struck him. He was sometimes assisted in this endeavor by the clerks, who supplied him with inventories and other information about their records. Many times, however, he received field reports from Milnor Ljungstedt, a seasoned genealogist from New England who assisted him with his inspections. How Robinson and Ljungstedt began working together and what her official role was remains something of a mystery.

With dates ranging from 1915 to 1929, these courthouse surveys consist of a collection of files for each of the inspected Virginia localities which had surviving reports. Now housed at the Library of Virginia, the surveys vary in size and completeness from almost nothing to huge inventories and everything in between. A typical file contains a brief report by either Ljungstedt or Robinson and a few photographs to document the inspection. The reports were often scribbled on an envelope that presumably held the small photographs taken during the on-site visits.

Both Robinson and Ljungstedt eventually used their research for publications about the courthouse records. In 1916, Robinson published his important “Virginia Counties: Those Resulting from Virginia Legislation” in the Bulletin of the Virginia State Library. Between 1921 and 1931, Ljungstedt published a periodical entitled The County Court Note-Book, which featured abstracts and information about Virginia as well as other mid-Atlantic and northeastern county court records. The original courthouse files offer a unique insight into the records, the courthouses, the clerks, and their offices.

If you’re interested in present-day courthouse adventures, follow the Library’s Facebook page or read the CCRP News.

 

–Eddie Woodward, Senior Local Records Consulting Archivist

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