Category Archives: Local Records Blog Posts

- The Petition of Araminta Frances


Petition of Araminta Frances, Lunenburg County Chancery Cause 1856-042.

In court documents from Lunenburg County Chancery Cause 1856-042, the petition of Araminta Frances reveals an interesting and life-changing request.  On 10 March 1856 Araminta Frances, a free woman of color, petitioned the court asking to be enslaved.

Araminta was once the slave (along with at least two others) of James G. Richardson.  Richardson’s last will and testament, probated 9 December 1850, left the majority of his estate, including finances, property, and slaves, to his daughter, Sarah A. Richardson, two nephews, and friend John L. Coleman.  The provisions for the slaves were clearly spelled out. One negro male slave, Cezar, was to go to James G. Richardson’s nephew, James R. Walker, and John L. Coleman “to be taken care of by them and to be paid to him [Cezar] yearly by them the full amount of his yearly value.” Richardson also stipulated that “my negro child Virginia and Minty’s [presumably Araminta] child yet unborn” should be emancipated and receive the sum of $500 each or $1,000 if his daughter Sarah should die without issue. Minty (or Araminta) would be emancipated should his daughter, Sarah, die without having married. A copy of James G. Richardson’s will was included with the petition as supporting documentation for Araminta’s case.

Also included in the case was a bill passed by the General Assembly on 20 December 1855 allowing Araminta … read more »

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- Grant Awarded to Process Montgomery Co. Circuit Court Records


NHPRC logo

The Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services branch, in partnership with the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk, was recently awarded a 2-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support the processing of the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Collection, 1777-1912. The grant provides for the processing and indexing of the Montgomery County Chancery Causes with an eye toward future digitization as well as the creation of electronic finding aids for the remaining loose historical court records found in the clerk’s office in Christiansburg. The project will utilize a new strategy for the LVA in that all work will be completed by professional archivists in the clerk’s office rather than at the Archives in Richmond. 

The NHPRC recognized the national significance of the Montgomery County court records as the county was ideally situated on routes west to experience the travel and migration of  people seeking opportunity, land, and adventure in the West. These court records also illuminate the lives of numerous under-documented populations and have national significance for researchers interested in the African American experience, women’s history, westward migration, and southern labor and business history in the antebellum and post-Civil War periods.

In their current state, the Montgomery County chancery records are only known and utilized by a select few historians and humanities researchers. When completed the Montgomery County Chancery Causes … read more »

- Washington and Scott Co. Cohabitation Registers Now Online


Washington County (Va.) Register of Colored Persons Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife, 1866, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of Scott County and Washington County to the cohabitation register digitization project.  This project, via the Virginia Memory website, aims to index, digitize, transcribe, and provide access to all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit. The Scott and Washington registers are cohabitation registers only.  To date, their registers of children have not come to light.

Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the oftentimes murky past to their enslaved ancestors. The registers date from 1866 and provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover. Cohabitation registers were the legal vehicles by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information about an individual person contained in a cohabitation register is literally priceless as it is often the first time that a former slave appeared officially in the public record and because of the extensive kinds of information that the register recorded.

The registers, transcriptions, and searchable index are available online along with the other registers from Virginia localities in the Cohabitation Register Digital Collection in Virginia Memory. To find it … read more »

- Lancaster Co. Records Uncovered in Courthouse


Plat, Lancaster County Chancery Cause George M. Mitchell vs. Sarah E. Mitchell, etc., 1860-012.


Map of a Public Square at Lancaster Courthouse, 1859, Lancaster County (Va.) Plats, 1811-1950, (Barcode 0007397545), Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

As the Commonwealth of Virginia’s archives and library, the Library of Virginia provides a wide variety of services to local public libraries and government agencies across the state. For example, the Library’s Local Records Services Branch and Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), actively work with the commonwealth’s 120 circuit court clerks to help preserve their permanent records. Coordinating CCRP activities statewide necessitates a great deal of time on the road, and staff maintain a very ambitious travel schedule along with the projects that take place in Richmond. Often, we will receive a phone call or email from a clerk seeking advice on preservation grants, transferring records to the archives, or how best to preserve certain records in their office.

Recently we were contacted by Lancaster County Circuit Court Clerk Diane Mumford, who had discovered some old records as she unpacked boxes that had been moved from her old office to the new county Judicial Center.  Mumford recognized the age and significance of the documents and contacted the LVA for guidance on caring for the documents and what steps she should take to preserve them. Little excites an archivist (or a researcher for that matter!) more than the discovery of a group of old documents promising new information and avenues for research.

We quickly agreed on a date for us to visit and were pleased … read more »

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- Stories from the Past Revealed in Rockingham Co. Chancery Records

 

Central Mining, Manufacturing, & Land Co. Prospectus, Rockingham County Chancery Cause John E. Roller and George W. Sanderson, etc. vs. J. K. Snavely, etc., 1909-088.

The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the Rockingham County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, is pleased to announce that the indexing and digitization of Rockingham County’s historic chancery causes is now complete and available online through the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.

The RockinghamCounty chancery collection covers the years 1781 to 1913 and are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history. They often contain correspondence; property lists: including slaves; lists of heirs; and vital statistics that reveal detailed stories that help tell the story of Virginia. Cases contain useful biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free. (See this earlier blog post for a description of interesting suits covering the issue of slavery found in the chancery causes for the years 1781-1893.)

In addition, the economic boom of the 1880s, and subsequent bust that followed the Panic of 1893, plays out in the chancery causes. Suits 1903-128 and 1909-088 contain prospectuses laying out the grand plans of two land improvement companies that became casualties of that financial downturn. The schemes for new towns, grand hotels, and railroad lines in RockinghamCounty and other parts of the Valley collapsed along with the railroad and banking industries of the U. S., and the creditors and shareholders of the … read more »

- Tobacco Census: Fixing the “Frauds and Mischiefs” of the Tobacco Trade


Unknown image of tobacco dress, circa 1920s. (Image used courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

Virginia’s agricultural production, as well as its economy, was dominated by tobacco for over three centuries, ever since John Rolfe sent his first shipment of tobacco to England in 1614. Growth of the Virginia colony and extension into the interior meant more soil and larger crops of tobacco. Despite the continuous growth in production, the tobacco trade was plagued by falling prices and decreased quality. By the 1720s, tobacco exports included large quantities of inferior product that even included shipments of “trash” tobacco—shipments that diluted tobacco leaves with foreign substances such as household sweepings. Consequently the price of tobacco sank so low that many planters struggled to recover production costs.

In 1723 Virginia’s General Assembly passed the first of its Tobacco Acts that attempted to control the quantity and quality of tobacco grown in the colony because it was believed that “most of the ffrauds [sic] and mischiefs which have been complained of in the Tobacco Trade” had arisen from the “planting on land not proper for producing good Tobacco” and the production of “greater Crops than the persons employed therein are able duly to tend.” The 1723 act established limits on the number of plants that certain classes of persons could grow with slave owners being allowed fewer plants. Each vestry of every parish had to appoint two people every year to count the … read more »

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- I Fought the Railroad and Won, or Did I?


Drawing of a cross-section of consolidation in an engine boiler filed in the judgement Gatewood vs. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company, June 1885. James City County/Williamsburg Judgments, 1877-1891, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

While examining the James City County/Williamsburg court records recently, I came across a civil suit titled Gatewood vs. Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company that contained two oversize exhibits.  The first was a plat, which is not unusual since plats are commonly found in court records; however, the second oversize exhibit was unusual.  It was an illustration of the engine boiler of a steam locomotive.  The sketch included numerous tiny arrows showing the direction of air flow in the boiler.  The exhibit piqued my curiosity so I read the suit to determine its purpose.

The plaintiff, R. E. Gatewood, filed a civil suit against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company in James City County Circuit Court on 3 November 1884.  In his statement to the court, Gatewood blamed C&O Railway for a fire that caused extensive damage to his property on 14 October 1884.  Greenwood claimed that a C&O steam locomotive passing through his property did not have a spark arrestor or, if it did, the spark arrestor was not working properly. (A spark arrestor was a wire netting designed to prevent sparks or other tiny flaming debris from escaping the locomotive’s “balloon stack.”)  As a result of the “careless negligence” of the defendant, the plaintiff’s property was set on fire by sparks emitted from the steam locomotive.  Valuable timber including oak, chestnut, walnut, and pine … read more »

- Murder Most Fowl

 

Selden's Funny Farce, A Spring Chicken, circa 1898. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

On 17 April 1875, Anna Williams of 313 Canal Street in Richmond heard a noise and went outside to investigate only to discover a plank pulled off of her hen house and a man “breaking chicken necks.”   Emmet W. Ruffin, a neighbor enlisted to assist her, later testified as to what happened next., “I jumped back and drew my knife and waited for him to come out…. Just then the man jumped out of the chicken house and threw a handful of sand or dirt in my eyes…. As soon as I got the sand out of my eyes, I went after him… and struck him with the knife as he was going over the fence.”  The thief dropped some of the chickens inside the yard, but Ruffin continued to follow him.  Shortly, a chase ensued, with people joining in and crying “murder” and “thief.”   Some members of the group began throwing stones.  One struck the thief on the side of his head knocking him to the ground.  The chicken thief, later identified as Robert Bland, never got back up.

The Richmond coroner’s statement reveals that the chicken thief came to his death from a stab wound, inflicted by Emmet W. Ruffin, received while engaged in stealing chickens. The jury was of the opinion that Ruffin “[deserved] the thanks of the community for his action … read more »

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- History Restored: Free Negro Registers Conserved


Amelia County Free Negro Register, 1855-1865, with original boards. Volume also contains Freedmen's Marriage License Book, 1865-1869 (Barcode number 1138338).

While watching the February 2012 episode of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? featuring actor and Petersburg native Blair Underwood investigating his family history, Library of Virginia staff could not help but notice that one of the original volumes displayed on the show was not in great shape.  The Amherst County Register of Free Negroes, 1822-1864, was used on the show to prove that one of Underwood’s ancestors had been a free person prior to the Civil War.  The front and back covers of the volume had become detached from the spine, pages were loose, and overall it did not look like the book could withstand much handling without sustaining further damage to its fragile pages.  This led to a reevaluation of the existing conservation priority for the 30 free Negro registers in the Library’s holdings.  Previously it was thought that since all of the free Negro registers were microfilmed, the original volumes would not be handled by the public any longer, thus conservation money would be better spent on other items.  However, the resurgence of interest in African American genealogy, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and related issues, and interest in the registers for display in exhibits clearly indicated that a change was necessary.  A conservation inventory was done for all of the volumes and the ones that require treatment will … read more »

- Finding What Was Lost: The Lost Records Localities Digital Collection


Pulaski County courthouse on fire 29 December 1989.

The Lost Records Localities Digital Collection consists of copies of records from counties or incorporated cities that have suffered significant record loss due to intense military activity (predominantly during the Civil War), courthouse fires, theft, vandalism, water damage, pest damage, and/or natural disasters. Copies are made from surviving records such as wills and deeds found in the court records of other localities as part of chancery and other circuit court records processing projects. The “lost” documents are digitally scanned and the images and pertinent information are added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory.

The Lost Records Localities project has been an ongoing one for the Library of Virginia for decades. During the mid-1910’s, Virginia’s first state archivist Morgan P. Robinson sent a letter to all clerks inquiring about the state of the records in their courthouses.  Many responded saying the records were destroyed during the American Revolution, Civil War, courthouse fire, etc. The coming of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program in the early 1990’s continued this project and enabled the hiring of additional archival staff to process circuit court records, mainly chancery causes. While processing chancery, archivists identify documents from localities that suffered loss of records–a Will of Matthew Koon, 1731, recorded in Stafford County and used as an exhibit in a Fauquier County chancery cause or … read more »