Category Archives: Big Find Friday

- 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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- 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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