About: Jessica

Jessica is the Senior Accessioning Archivist at the Library of Virginia. She holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Big Find Friday: You can’t always get what you want, but…

Today we bring you another installment of our Big Find Friday series.  While we love those “Eureka!” moments where a patron finds the exact, obscure document that unlocks an entire family history in one fell swoop, occasionally the historical record keeps a stingy grip on its secrets.  This post shows that sometimes a patron’s “big find” is the Library of Virginia itself.

Donna Potter Phillips of Spokane, Washington, visited us in May 2014 for the National Genealogical Society’s conference.  While here, she hoped to find evidence of the 1725 marriage in Williamsburg of her ancestor Marquis Calmes (b. 1705, Stafford County, Virginia) to a “fine English lady,” Winnifred Waller, and learn the identity of Waller’s parents.  “Alas, I accomplished neither,” Phillips wrote to us afterward, prompting optimistic archivists to shed forlorn tears.  Ah, but wait!  She didn’t stop there, adding, “But I surely had a great time looking.” 

As Phillips exhausted the resources of not only the Library of Virginia, but also Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg and William and Mary’s Swem Library, she was able only to determine that her ancestors did not marry at Bruton Parish. Undeterred, she proclaimed herself “comfort[ed] to know the ‘final score’ from a reputable source.”  She closed by sharing that “I happily looked at everything on the Waller family that your great staff could dig up for me.  … read more »

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Wartime musings on God and nature


Aquilla Peyton diary entry, 19 December 1861, showing his attention to clarity as he edits his thoughts on how constant his sense of his own

In my work for the Civil War 150 Legacy Project, I recently came across the diary of Aquilla Peyton (1837-1875). A private in the Confederate Army, Peyton was a young man with a loving family living near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and an avid diarist with a spiritual nature and a naturalist bent. Peyton kept this particular diary from August 1861 to August 1863. His final days as a soldier were in December of 1862; in January 1863, he returned home and recommenced teaching school.

Peyton’s diary is quite long at 186 pages, and is teeming with quotes from the Old and New Testaments, daily logs on the weather and the changing of seasons, and achingly personal observations on the unworthiness of his character and his struggle to be a better Christian. On Wednesday, 19 December 1861, Peyton wrote:

I am constantly almost constantly disturbed by a sense of my sinfulness, and I can not be satisfied with any thing less than true religion. I view the law of God as perfect and lovely, and it seems to me that I pray sincerely for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. But so cold is my heart, and so feeble my efforts, that I can not conclude that I am a Christian. I am afraid I am devoid of the faith that works by love, purifies

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A stone’s throw from madness


Image of a mad stone, courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C., as displayed on the Old Farmer's Alamanac website (www.almanac.com).

“I send you two patients to the mad stone. They are natives of this place and had their children bitten today.”

-J. Reuben Richerson to R. L. Harrison, 26 June 1893

“1/3net receipts from mad stone since same was placed into hands of R. L. Harrison.”

-written on checks from Harrison to Richerson and Maria L. Motley, 14 March 1893

“Mad stone? What’s a mad stone?” I wondered out loud.

I’d stumbled across the R. L. Harrison Papers, 1893-1901 (Library of Virginia accession 26527), during the dog days of summer. This business records collection consisted of correspondence, checks, accounts, and receipts from Harrison, a druggist in Richmond during the 1890s-1910s, to J. Reuben Richerson, Nannie E. Richerson, and Maria L. Motley, all of Caroline County, concerning something called a mad stone (or madstone) and payments for its use. Piqued by this reference, I set out to answer my own question.

I learned from the Oxford English Dictionary that a mad stone is a “stone or similar object supposedly having the power to counteract the effect of the bite of a rabid or venomous animal.” Furthermore, thanks to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, I discovered that it was a “stony concretion (as a hair ball from the stomach of a deer).” In appearance, it looked like a small stone; according to various descriptions, it could be … read more »

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Big Find Friday: A voice from the past

Here at the Library of Virginia, we love seeing patrons locate records that answer a long-held question, fill in branches of the family tree, or otherwise connect the present to the past.  We recently began collecting such stories from patrons eager to share their discoveries, gathering them as part of our “My Big Find” project.  You’ll see these stories popping up in various LVA outreach outlets, including here at Out of the Box in an occasional segment, beginning today, which we are calling “Big Find Friday.”


Robert Nisbet naturalization document, 1800. United States District Court Records, Ended Cases, 1800. Accession 25187. Federal Records Collection. Library of Virginia, Richmond.

It’s fairly common for someone to say that something–a work of art or literature, a photograph, or perhaps an archival record like the ones we preserve here—“speaks to” him or her.  In one of our latest “My Big Find” submissions, a patron found that expression to be particularly appropriate.  With a little help from Archives Reference Coordinator Minor Weisiger, patron Jennie Howe discovered a record of the 1800 naturalization of her third great-grandfather, weaver Robert Nisbet (1746-1812).  As she studied the document, she noticed that Nisbet’s birthplace of Ayr, Scotland, had been recorded as “the County of Ier in Scotland.” Howe explains that “I felt as if the over 200-year-old paper literally spoke to me, as the clerk recorded the ‘Ier’ he heard for the ‘Ayr’ that Nisbet said with his Gaelic accent.”

Has the past “spoken” to you … read more »

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“Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why hast thou forgotten me!”

The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has been travelling around Virginia and scanning privately held Civil War-related manuscript documents for the past four years. Recently, as I was cataloging some of the scanned materials, I came across a letter, written 14 August 1864 by Ole R. Dahl of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company B. Dahl had been captured by Confederate forces and was imprisoned in Savannah, Georgia. Written to his son, Anton P. Dahl, the letter relates his suffering in prison, his concern for various family members, and his hopes for release. Dahl writes that if he knew “all the truble [sic] and suffering I since have been subject to I would rather be shott [sic] down on the spot before I would surrender.” What really caught my attention was the beautiful drawing at the top of the letter, assumedly done by Dahl. The drawing features two prisoners in camp washing and cooking, with areas labeled “the death line” and “guard line” surrounding the prison. Underneath the drawing was written ‘Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why has thou forgotten me!”


Detail view of drawing Lieutenant Ole R. Dahl, 15th Wisconsin infantry Regiment, Company B, included in his 14 August 1864 letter to son Anton P. Dahl while in a Confederate prison in Savannah, Georgia. Item scanned as part of the CW 150 Legacy Project. Original is privately owned.

According to information on the Wisconsin Historical Society website, Dahl enlisted on 9 October 1861 and was mustered into service on 13 February 1862 to serve with the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company H. In March 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant … read more »

“There’s only one thing I don’t like about Combat–It Ain’t Safe!”


Recruitment poster for U. S. Army Air Corps. Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

When John Hager Randolph Jr. wrote to his parents in Richmond near the end of his Virginia Military Institute career in the spring of 1942, he had a few things on his mind. There were the girls he was interested in, the potential for a “bawling out” from Mom and Dad once they received his grades, and the average college student’s ever-present concern: money (“Please send me the money soon!” was his plaintive postscript to one letter).  But, while his life at this point resembled that of pretty much any other soon-to-be graduate, Randolph was on the verge of a new chapter of adventure and danger, thrown in the midst of one of history’s greatest conflicts. His service as a World War II bomber pilot is detailed in the letters he sent home, preserved in the John Hager Randolph Jr. Papers (Acc. 51038) at the Library of Virginia.  

After VMI, Randolph entered the Army Air Corps, training stateside as a pilot with the war looming ever larger in his future. At the end of a prolonged period of uncertainty as to his eventual assignment, he found himself heading to the Pacific Theater in the spring of 1945. There, he would take part in an aerial battering of Japan that would test its resistance to surrender before the atomic bomb finally brought it down.  … read more »

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Latest Digital Images of Legislative Petitions Now Available


Page 1 of petition, citizens of Shinnston, 1861, Harrison County, Legislative Petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia. See gallery at end of article to view rest of petition.

Digital images of legislative petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776 to 1865, from Fairfax County through King William County have been added to the Legislative Petitions Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes the present-day West Virginia counties of Fayette, Gilmer, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hancock, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, and Kanawha, as well as Kentucky County, now a part of the state of Kentucky. It also includes numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities such as Fairfax, Gloucester, Hanover, James City, King and Queen, and King William Counties. With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available for viewing online currently exceeds 11,000.

One common topic found in the legislative petitions that would be of particular interest to genealogists is that of name changes. Virginia citizens could petition the General Assembly to have their names changed.  Typically this was done for inheritance purposes. In 1851, Richard Ballinger of Floyd County filed a petition to change the surname of his nine stepchildren from Lovell to Ballinger so that they could be heirs at law of his estate. William W. Finney of Accomack County filed a petition to change not just his surname but his whole name in order to receive his inheritance. Finney’s uncle, John Arrington, wrote in his will that the only … read more »

“I told you I had no money & therefore could not pay you”


Ad placed by James Juhan in the 19 April 1787 issue of the VIRGINIA GAZETTE.

In 1771, James Juhan, musical instrument maker, arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, from Boston, Massachusetts. From 1771 to 1772 he advertised in the Charleston newspapers as a music teacher and repairer of musical instruments. Years later, having recently moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, he advertised in the 15 April 1786 issue of the Virginia Gazette, stating that he taught music, repaired instruments, and was a “Harpsichord and Forte Piano maker.”  He also advertised as a journeyman cabinetmaker or joiner (Virginia Gazette, 19 April 1786, 3-3). The following letters and accounts, found in the Henrico County judgments Southall vs. Juhan and Blodget & Eustis vs. Juhan, provide a unique description of Juhan’s Virginia career and provide further information on the history of music in this country, especially American-made organs.    

In 1786, Juhan rented a house “lying on a back street in Williamsburg” from James Southall.  When Juhan later left Williamsburg for a job opportunity in Petersburg, he departed without paying the rent he owed to Southall.  He attempted to satisfy the debt by offering Southall his piano forte and promising further payment from organ-building jobs in Petersburg and Richmond.  In a 20 April 1788 letter, Juhan told Southall “you’ll be pay’d Sooner So than in going to law Suit.” Unconvinced, Southall chose the lawsuit route, as documented in Southall vs. Juhan (Henrico County … read more »

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News of a tragedy


Alden Aaroe, in an undated photograph, shown broadcasting over the WRVA airwaves.  (WRVA Radio Collection, Accession 38210)

Most of us—whether we were alive at the time of the event or learned about it from parents and grandparents, books, magazine articles, documentaries, and movies—are familiar with the basic details of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas.  This week, reminders of the tragedy are ubiquitous, as the marking of 50 years since that day spurs historians, news outlets, conspiracy theorists, and others to again go over the sudden snuffing out of the “leader of the free world.”

One of my least-favorite terms as an archivist, only due to its extreme over-use, is “bringing the past to life.”  However, I can’t help but use that phrase to describe the sort of record that we are highlighting on the blog today.  Included as part of a sizable trove of news recordings in the WRVA Radio Collection (Accession 38210) is a special report which aired that very evening, just a few short hours after the death of the president.

Even in the early 1960s, the nation was able to hear important news almost as soon as it happened, and WRVA listeners were fed anxiety-producing bulletins (some provided by NBC News) from approximately ten minutes after the shooting until the heartbreaking confirmation of Kennedy’s death came over the station’s airwaves at 2:36 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.  This program, “The Death … read more »

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Archives as art


A group of customer orders for goods from Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia. The orders are seen as they were originally kept by the store, attached to a piece of wire roughly in the order they were received and filled.  Easley, Holt and Company Records (LVA Accession 50951)

Discovered in a box of election records from the Secretary of the Commonwealth by a member of the Library of Virginia’s State Records staff, this distinctive-looking work of art came to us just as it had hung in Easley, Holt and Company, a general store in Halifax County, Virginia, operated by James Stone Easley (1802-1879). How and when it arrived is not clear, and it is a mystery how it ended up in a box of state records.  Since being transferred to the Library’s Private Papers collection, it forms part of the Easley, Holt and Company Records, Accession 50951.

The composition, now only preserved in the photograph on the right, consisted of customer orders for goods, created from 1837 to 1844.  The orders, of various shapes and sizes, were attached to a simple piece of wire, roughly in chronological order as they were received and filled.  The result, although dating from the 19th century, is a hanging paper sculpture that the viewer could imagine seeing today in a contemporary art gallery.

The hanging store orders are for clothing and material, dry goods, liquor, medicine, and other items. Some of the orders for cloth have a swatch of material attached, with instructions that it be matched by cloth that is in stock. Easley was also postmaster, so customers frequently added a request that their mail … read more »

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