Category Archives: Local Records Blog Posts

- New Images Added to the Lost Records Digital Collection


Plat of Bell's Cold Comfort Estate, 1840, in Buckingham County found in Nelson County Chancery Causes, 1841-071, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Additional document images from counties or incorporated cities classified as “Lost Records Localities” have been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory.  The bulk of the additions are copies of wills, deeds, and estate records of members of the Bell family from Buckingham County; these items were used as exhibits in the Nelson County Chancery Cause 1841-071, William Scruggs and wife, etc., versus Rebecca Branch, etc. The wills of Frederick Cabell, Dougald Ferguson, and William Woods–all recorded in Buckingham County and all exhibits in other Nelson County chancery suits–have been added as well. One document from Buckingham County was found in City of Lynchburg court records. It is an apprenticeship indenture dated 1812, made between Clough T. Amos and Betsy Scott, a free African American. Amos was to instruct Scott’s son Wilson “in the art and mystery of a waterman in navigating [the] James river above the falls at the city of Richmond.”

Documents from other Lost Records Localities used as exhibits in Middlesex County chancery suits have been added as well. They include the will of Edward Waller, recorded in Gloucester County; the wills of Patsy Wiatt and James Christian, recorded in King and Queen County; a deed between Henry Cooke and wife to William Taylor, recorded in King and Queen County; and the will and estate … read more »

- The Jury’s Gut Feeling: Bedford County Coroner’s Inquisitions


coronersinquest

A recent episode of BackStory With the American History Guys entitled “On The Take” addressed the topic of corruption in American politics and government. Host Brian Balogh interviewed legal scholar Nicholas Parrillo, who pointed out that, in an effort to prevent such corruption around the turn of the 20th century, government officials’ salaries were often paid through the fees and fines that they levied. Essentially, they were paid on commission. Some coroner’s inquest records from Bedford County recently brought that practice to light.

On 30 May 1890, jurors selected to inquire into the death of James Brown, a resident of Bedford County’s Big Island, were stumped. After reviewing the evidence, half of the jury thought that the deceased came to his death by poison, and the other half thought the cause of death was unknown.  They all agreed on one thing –that Brown had shown symptoms of having been poisoned, and they wanted his stomach analyzed.

Apparently, what they wanted was expensive and somewhat complicated. State Assayer and Chemist Dr. William H. Taylor wrote from his laboratory at 606 E. Grace St. in Richmond, Virginia, a letter that described exactly how much it would cost and what he would need. He explained that the fee for the stomach analysis was $200, and that the State would only cover $25 of the cost, … read more »

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- The Razor’s Edge: Using the Coroner’s Inquests in Elizabeth City County


Hampton, City of. County and Circuit Court, Felony Papers, 1926-1936, Box 61, Local Government Records Collection, The Library of Virginia.

Dr. Paul J. Parker ruled on 11 June 1935, that “James A. Branch came to his death of gun shot wound while gun was in hands of Lewis Smith at No 4 Curry St Phoebus Va [sic].” However, five months later he modified his ruling when he wrote, “James Branch came to his death by a gun shot wound just below the lobe of the left ear, this occurred at the corner of Curry and County Streets, Phoebus, Va.” Lack of an explanation for this momentous change amplified the intrigue and portended a unique case in the otherwise straightforward files of Dr. Parker.

As the medical examiner for Elizabeth City County, later the City of Hampton, Dr. Parker was tasked with conducting coroner’s inquiries into any sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious deaths, or any death which occurred without medical attendance. These inquiries included conducting depositions to determine how the victim came to his or her death and, if so warranted, forwarding his findings to the Elizabeth City County Circuit Court for grand jury consideration.

In the case of James Branch, Dr. Parker, after deposing eleven witnesses, found that Lewis Smith had held the gun that fired the fatal shot. Included in this group of witnesses was Mr. Smith, whom Dr. Parker advised had been charged with murder. Interestingly Dr. Parker then did what … read more »

- A Different Kind of Local Record


Reenactment of inoculation, Colonial Williamsburg, COLONIAL GERM WARFARE, Spring 2004, Colonial Williamsburg Journal.

Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by two variants of a virus—variola major and variola minor. Since smallpox was certified as eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1979, it has managed to make its way back into the news. Vaccination has become a hot button topic among parents. As a nation, free from epidemics and pandemics, we have become suspicious—sometimes with the perceived risks of vaccination outweighing the advantages. Without a large-scale and successful vaccination program, however, smallpox would still be claiming lives. During the 20th century alone, an estimated 300-500 million people worldwide were victims of this deadly disease.

Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the concerns about using lethal viruses, like smallpox, as weapons of bioterrorism have become all too real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traveled to New Mexico and the College of Santa Fe’s Fogelson Library in 2004 and the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond in 2010 to remove and study smallpox scabs found in their collections. Smallpox scabs could contain the live virus. In these cases, the virus was no longer live but the scraps of DNA found allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of the evolutionary history of the smallpox virus. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, a new policy to make the vaccine available to every American was instituted. As the scientific community … read more »

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- Montgomery County’s African American History


Workshop flyer

The varied experience of the African American residents of Montgomery County, Virginia, reveals itself in many documentary sources, but perhaps none as unexpected to some researchers as in the chancery causes.  As a preview of the upcoming workshop “Researching Your African American Ancestors: Genealogy to 1870” scheduled to be held at the Christiansburg Public Library on 19 July 2014, here follow five examples from the Montgomery County chancery causes highlighting different facets of African American life over the span of 100 years.

Whether as slaves or free persons of color, African Americans arrived in the western parts of Virginia as soon as the area began to be settled by easterners.  The earliest chancery suit with an identified free person is suit 1819-016, Lewis Garner vs. Peter Hance.  Peter Hance executed a bond to Garner, “a man of color” for $49.75 in 1813.  Garner then lost the note and Hance refused to honor the debt.  Garner filed suit against Hance to clarify the circumstances of the debt, the loss of the note, and to collect what he was owed.  The suit was dismissed at the request of the plaintiff in 1819.

Slaves appear throughout the chancery suits in many different situations, most commonly in an estate settlement suit when the slaves are divided among heirs or sold to pay debts. Chancery cause 1847-015, Ann Trigg, read more »

- Dwight D. Sunderlin, 1944-2014

 


Dwight D. Sunderlin, 1944-2014

Our valued colleague in the Imaging Services Section, Dwight Sunderlin, passed away on February 8 after a brief illness. He will be laid to rest this spring in his beloved hometown of Winchester, Virginia. During his lifetime, Dwight wore many hats as both a soldier and a civilian. He proudly served his country in the National Guard.  Here at the Library of Virginia, Dwight was a methodical, trustworthy coworker who was willing to assist in any type of situation–from changing windshield wiper blades to implementing the operational procedures for a new software program.

Dwight was an avid hunter throughout his life. As a civilian, he always scheduled his annual vacation in November to go deer hunting. The yearly trip had a three-fold purpose. First, hunting allowed him to apply some of the training that he received in the military. Secondly, it allowed him to practice his marksmanship using weapons from his extensive firearms collection. Hunting was a contest between him and the deer; however, the deer usually won. If he was successful, Dwight acted like a little kid and bragged about his prize!  He even took a picture of the trophy buck that he’d bagged and displayed it proudly on his desk. Finally, and most importantly, was the bonding time spent between Dwight and his brother, with few interruptions from the outside world.

Like … read more »

- A Monument of Debt


Washington Monument, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, 2010. (Image used courtesy of George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

The Washington Monument is finally reopening on 12 May 2014 after undergoing restoration for damage caused by an earthquake in August 2011. I was curious what the Library of Virginia had in its collections relating to the monument and discovered an interesting footnote to the history surrounding its construction. The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization formed in 1833 to fund and build the monument, solicited donations and designs for more than a decade before construction finally began in 1848. In 1854, the Society went bankrupt, leaving a partial structure that stood unfinished until Congress assumed the duties of funding and construction on 5 July 1876. Arlington County Judgment Samuel Harrison Smith vs. Thomas K. Beale, dated October 1838, sheds some light on why the Society found itself bankrupt.

The judgment concerns the work of James M. McRea, an agent for the Society sent to Alabama to solicit donations “for the erection of a great national monument to the memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government.” Included in the case are three letters sent by McRea during his travels in Alabama. In the first, dated 2 April 1836 and sent from the then state capitol, Tuscaloosa, we discover that McRea did not travel alone but took along his family, causing a delay in his journey when his children were “attacked … read more »

- Jackass: The Blog Post


Broadside advertising Don Alphonso, Lunenburg County (Va.) Clerks' and Miscellaneous Records, 1802-1925, (Barcode 1046170) Local Government Records, Library of Virginia.

When the first Saturday in May rolls around and the attention of the horse world gets fixated on Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, I like to remind our Out of the Box readers that Virginia is full of horse history, too. Broadsides advertising horses for sale or available breeding seasons are a frequent find in local court records. A recent fun discovery was a broadside advertising the stud season of Don Alphonso, a “Thorough-Bred Jack-Ass.”

Don Alphonso was not a cross between a Thoroughbred and a jackass but rather a well-bred jackass, as the term “Thorough-Bred” is used here to denote purebred. Described by his owner, Richard Bland, as being of “high perfection” and possessed of “as much vigor as any Jack I ever faw [sic]; and that I believe him to be as fure [sic] a foal getter as any on the continent.” Don Alphonso stood for six dollars for the season lasting 10 March to 10 August 1802.

A stud book for Don Alphono’s 1802 season was included along with the broadside, but when opened it did not reveal Don’s breeding transactions for that season. Instead, listed inside were the “Amount of Articles purchased for D. S. McCormick’s Negroes.” The list was an account of items such as fabric, shoes, and clothing purchased for McCormick’s slaves for the years 1847-1849. Two female … read more »

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- Magic Lantern After-Show Turns Deadly


Phantasmagoria by James Gillray, 1803. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

Sometimes what starts out in fun can turn into a deadly accident.  That’s exactly what happened on 5 September 1894, in Bedford County, Virginia, when John Robinson decided it would be amusing to play a prank on some friends.

The friends had attended a magic lantern show held at the “Negro church” in Montvale, Virginia, and it was after the show that John Robinson devised his idea for a prank. Bud Anderson was there that night and told about the events that led up to the incident. “The show closed at 10:15 P.M. I stayed a few minutes afterwards and went with Bob Rosebrugh and met [Robinson] on the railroad crossing.” Robinson had “proposed a plan to scare Hunter Clark and John Minter, who had gone home with the Flood girls.” He shared his plan with Anderson and Rosebrugh, who told him, “I’m afraid Hunter Clark will shoot.” Not to be deterred, Robinson left for “some minutes” and returned with a rope and white garment.  Robinson took the rope and garment and crossed the creek “by the Bluff Road.” Some 20 minutes later, Anderson and Rosebrugh heard four pistol shots.

Hunter Clark was able to fill in the details about the prank that went horribly awry: “Just before we got to the creek at Rice’s Mill, I ran against a white garment tied to a … read more »

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- Henry Co. Cohabitation Register and African-American Naming Practices


This visual representation of the names of the mothers found in the Henry Cohabitation Register illustrate the frequency of use by the size of the name.(Word images created using wordle.net)

The Library of Virginia has completed the digitization and transcription of the last of the cohabitation registers in its possession, the Henry County Cohabitation Register, 1866. Others have already been transcribed and are available in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory. For African-American genealogical researchers, the names contained herein provide priceless clues to retracing their ancestors. Cohabitation registers imparted legal legitimacy to African-American marriages and children. This was also the first time many of these individuals would appear in public record under their own names.

Naming under the practice of slavery was fraught with power dynamics. The enslavers often gave names to the enslaved. The amount of input the family of the child would have in his or her name varied, but journals of slave-holders indicate they specifically assigned names to slave children on a regular basis.[1] Newly enslaved Africans were often issued a new name by their captors, causing their identities to become yet another site of colonization. Naming was a powerful tool for enforcing cultural assimilation and denigrating African cultural identity.[2]

When viewed simply as data, the set of names used for slaves seems to have been larger and more varied than the set of names used for free people. Slave names tended to fit within five categories: diminutive versions of English names (Jim, Bess), place names … read more »