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.
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 »
“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 »
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.”
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »