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: Reference staff to the rescue

Here on Out of the Box we like to take the occasional Friday to let patrons of the Library of Virginia tell our readers of their research success stories.  We call it Big Find Friday, and today we bring you the latest installment.

James and Andra Krehbiel made the long journey all the way from Arizona to Richmond to research the descendants of Jacob Wees (1733-1826) of Muddy Creek, Pennsylvania, and Elkins, (West) Virginia.  Their visit yielded valuable information on some ten generations of the family (variations of the surname include Weese, Wease, and Wiess). 

“While we had names and dates for most, we were in need of a great deal of assistance to locate ‘the story’ of each,” the Krehbiels wrote in their “My Big Find” submission.  “This could never have been done without the amount of help your staff provided and which we never expected.”

The couple specifically thanked Bill Luebke, Dave Grabarek, Ginny Dunn, and Lisa Werhmann for their help, adding that “As both of us have doctorates and have done our share of research, we can attest that the staff of the Library of Virginia is outstanding.”

If you want to “get to know” your ancestors a little better, we would love for you to take advantage of our unique and impressive resources – including our dedicated reference staff.  For those … read more »

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“Nothing but…”


Handwritten copy (page 1 of 2) of a Civil War era poem, found in the papers of the Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia. CW 150 Legacy Project.

The Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia, had seven children, among them three sons who all served in the Confederate army. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has scanned a significant number of the family’s letters and miscellany; one item is a handwritten poem which I initially theorized was the work of a Runkle daughter. No obvious identification could be made, as the poem itself was unsigned, the scanning of the object was not accompanied by further detail as to its writer, and attempts at locating more personal information about the family were unsuccessful.

This is a pity, for the poem is an enormously rich document, written by a hand quite obviously skilled in the art form. A Google search of a refrain that appears throughout the poem (“Oh, he’s nothing but a soldier”) offers some hints, revealing that the poem was in fact a widely-distributed work.  A reference to it appears in The Southern War Poetry of the Civil War, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis by Esther Parker Ellinger, published by Hershey Press in 1918.  According to its listing in the book’s index, the poem is an air set to the tune of “Annie Laurie,” and is credited to “A Young Rebelle, Esq.”  Perhaps a Runkle woman was the mysterious “Young Rebelle,” but more than likely a family member copied it down … read more »

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“Nelson County in Hollywood”


Second revision of THE WALTONS Season 4 episode, The Fledgling. Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

The papers of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator and writer of the popular television series The Waltons, are now available for research at the Library of Virginia. One might wonder what the papers of a famous Hollywood figure are doing in Richmond.  Granted, Hamner was born in Schuyler, a small town in Nelson County, but he left Virginia in 1949.  His many accomplishments in film and television took place outside of his home state. But when Hamner left 65 years ago, it wasn’t as though he didn’t look back.

Much of Hamner’s inspiration and ideas grew out of the first 25 years of his life growing up in Nelson County and attending college at the University of Richmond.  Delivering the commencement address at his alma mater the University of Cincinnati in 2008, Hamner said, “What has inspired me has been the family and neighbors I grew up with in rural Virginia during the Great Depression.  They were a decent, God-fearing, patriotic people.  Like most Appalachian folk, they were frugal, proud, and self-reliant.  They were story tellers and I listened.” 


Stock photo of the cast of THE WALTONS, courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Found in Earl Hamner Jr. Papers, 1938-2013. Accession 51368. Personal Papers Collection. The Library of Virginia.

While a student at the University of Richmond just prior to World War II, Hamner was working on a short story which described the feelings of a boy when he joined his father for his first deer hunt.  As the story grew, Hamner realized the … read more »

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“Half way across the river”

Robert Cromwell (1838-1918) was a Union soldier serving in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company A. For several months during the spring and summer of 1864 he kept a diary. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project was lucky enough to scan, catalog, and digitize the diary, and numerous other papers of the Cromwell family.


Two pages from the diary of Robert Cromwell of the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, including a 30 May 1864 entry describing the sights and sounds of battle. Cromwell Family Papers, Civil War 150 Legacy Project.

Robert’s company took part in Major General William T. Sherman’s so-called “Atlanta Campaign,” a relentless and brutally long-lasting effort to sweep through Georgia, and ultimately seize Atlanta from the Confederate army. In his 30 May 1864 entry, Robert beautifully described the thrilling grotesquerie of the battlefield, with all its horrific forms of sensory overload:

“…crack crack in our front followed by a continuous crash of small arms then increased by heavy artillery soon brought us to our feet. For 35 or 40 minutes the roar was terrific.

…The unceasing roll of musketry the concussion caused by the booming cannon and bursting shell conspired to produce indescribable sensations, mingled exultation and awe.”

But the levity and humor found in the following anecdote from 13 July 1864, is even more noteworthy. Robert’s company is encamped on one side of the Chattahoochee River, and the Confederate troops they fought mere weeks earlier are encamped across the way. As Robert states:

“Although against orders conversation will occur.  Agreed last night to xchange [sic] papers

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A “Passport for Any-Where”


Cover of G.B. Lamar Jr.'s so-called PASSPORT FOR ANY-WHERE (G.B. Lamar Jr. Papers, 1859-1867. Civil War 150 Legacy Project. Permission to publish or reproduce is required.)

Recently I stumbled upon one of the more interestingly-worded government documents that I have ever encountered. Housed in the papers of Confederate soldier G.B. Lamar, Jr., of Georgia, was a leather-bound “passport” dated 1867. But this wasn’t just any ole’ passport–embossed in gold letters on the book’s cover were the words:

Hand Book of Loyalty.  
Passport for Any-Where.

Being a holder of a passport myself, and thereby glancingly familiar with the process of attainment and the general requirements of such, I couldn’t believe that such fanciful language could accompany something heretofore seen as banal and utterly devoid of hyperbole or flights of fancy. But–here it was! A passport to anywhere!

One might argue this is just a statement of the obvious, for a United States passport is, clearly, a document allowing one to travel “anywhere.” Yet the language trumpeted on Lamar’s leather cover hints at possibility and adventure in a way that my prosaically blue passport vehemently does not.

To open the book is to be confronted with yet more extravagant jargon, for it announces these intentions:

To produce the most
Soothing Feelings of Patriotism
In the Shortest Space of Time.—Works like Magic.

It turns out this was not a passport per se, but a wryly humorous book for former Confederates who had, perhaps reluctantly and out of pure necessity, sworn their allegiance to the … read more »

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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

read more »

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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 »