Category Archives: Uncategorized

- A much-deserved “thanks,” and a reluctant “farewell”

If only the Young Ladies of the Wesleyan Female Institute were here to sing their "Parting Song" for Dale. But alas, all we can offer is a blog post. Image from the cover of sheet music in the collection of the Library of Virginia, call number M1621 .H42 1868.

Archivists and others in history-related careers aren’t always known for being overly interested in embracing emerging technologies.  A good many of us regard social media only as a fun diversion in our personal lives, with no obvious application to our professional goals. With that narrow mindset, we might as well cede the point to the chorus of naysayers proclaiming that the internet will eventually make libraries and archives irrelevant.

And yet somehow, Dale Dulaney, one of those “I refuse to ever join Facebook” guys, knew that social media could be the perfect tool to ignite an interest in and respect for archives and the work of archivists.  He knew that the Library of Virginia (like so many other cultural institutions) had to make its relevance obvious in a time when crippling funding cuts are always a possibility.  He knew that archives are often misunderstood or completely overlooked by the public at large.  He also knew that the LVA’s archives housed all kinds of unique research treasures, records ranging from poignant to hilarious, to just plain useful.  And he knew that we had at our fingertips a fast and low-cost way to show an often oblivious world that archives and archivists – what we have and what we do – matter.

I’ll spare you the details of the exhaustive work Dale invested to get this blog … read more »

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- Earthquakes and Dirty Dancing. Yes Virginia, There Is A (Very Tenuous) Connection.

The Tazewell Republican, 3 June 1897.

News reports seem to conclude that yesterday’s earthquake, centered in Mineral, Louisa County, was the most powerful earthquake to ever strike the state. Fortunately, damage was light in affected areas and the Library of Virginia sustained no damage and is operating normally today. It made us think about the 1897 quake that, until yesterday, was considered to be the most powerful to hit the state.

At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon on 31 May 1897, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 5.8-5.9 and centered around Pearisburg in Giles County, hit the Atlantic Coast. According to the 3 June 1897 edition of The Tazewell Republican the Giles County Circuit Court, which had just reconvened, emptied into the courtyard without prompting. The paper reported that “…bricks flew from off the houses; riding horses secured to the racks about, broke loose and fled and neighed; the dust arose from the rolling earth…” The paper also described a general sense of panic.

Newspapers further afield, like The Roanoke Times, struggled to discern exaggeration from fact. Reports that Giles County’s Mountain Lake, one of two natural lakes in Virginia and a long-time resort area in the state, was drained by the quake proved to be false. Martin Williams, from Pearisburg, wrote the editor of the newspaper to dispel this report. “The earthquake was no worse in Giles … read more »

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- Primary Source Offers Questions and Clues About Will, Runaway Slave

Accomack County, Free Negro & Slave Records Box 1, Barcode 1138011.

Located among the odds and ends of Accomack County court records is this 1758 advertisement from Landon Carter of Richmond County for his runaway slave Will.  Landon Carter was one of the sons of Robert “King” Carter of Lancaster County and a rich man himself.  The advertisement is typical of runaway ads in that it seeks to provide as much information as possible about Will in order to facilitate his recapture:  looks, personality, friends and family, residence(s), and conjecture as to possible destination.  The ads are always interesting for what questions they provoke:  What was this “ill-Behaviour” that caused Will to be moved five counties north from Williamsburg to Richmond County?  What characteristics did he possess that would cause his owner to call him “sensible for a slave” (presumably a compliment)?  Were Will and Sarah particularly close, so much so that after his escape he risked fetching her so that she, too, could be free of slavery and the Carters?  Did Will, Sarah and Peter make good their getaway?

 (Citation: Accomack County, Free Negro & Slave Records Box 1, Barcode 1138011.)

 -Sarah Nerney, Senior Local Records Archivist… read more »

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- Aaron Burr Tried for Treason Today in 1807. Court Documents Here At LVA.


The indictment cover.

Two hundred four years ago, August 3, 1807, the former vice-president of the United States, Aaron Burr, was put on trial for treason. At a federal court held in the Virginia state capitol’s Old Hall of Delegates, John Marshall oversaw the proceedings and many of the most prominent names of the early federal period were subpoenaed, including the president Thomas Jefferson. The trial brought into question, among other things, the issues of executive privilege, state secrets, and the independence of the executive branch.

 Accused of plotting to foment war with Spain and seize land in the Midwest in order to form an independent nation, Burr was eventually acquitted of the charges. The trial records of the “Burr Conspiracy” are housed at The Library of Virginia’s archives along with the other records of the fourth circuit federal court. In addition to the original records of the trial, the LVA bookshelves hold numerous scholarly works examining the themes and controversies of one of the most sensational events of the day.


United States v. Aaron Burr, Indictment for Treason.

-Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist… read more »

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- Buy Me Some Peanuts And Cigarettes: Baseball Cards in the Archive


American Tobacco Company baseball card, T206 series (issued 1909-1911), featuring Ray Ryan of the Virginia League’s Roanoke Tigers. Item originally came with a pack of Old Mill cigarettes.


Contentnea Cigarettes baseball card, T209 series (issued 1910), featuring W. G. Smith of the Virginia League’s Portsmouth Truckers/Petersburg Goobers.

Tucked away in the Business Records Collections at the Library of Virginia are five 2.5 x 1.5 inch baseball cards issued by the American Tobacco Company.  Long before baseball cards were sold with bubble gum, they were sold with tobacco products.  Not only did the cards depict the major league stars of the day, but also minor leaguers throughout the country.  The five cards which make up the American Tobacco Company Baseball Cards collection (LVA Acc. 29187) feature Virginia League players.

Two of the cards in the collection, the color portraits of Perry Lipe and Ray Ryan, are part of what is known as the T206 series.  This series of cards, issued from 1909 to 1911, was sold with a wide range of tobacco products such as Sweet Caporal, Piedmont, and in the case of the Lipe and Ryan cards, Old Mill.  The minor leaguers in the series were from a variety of leagues across the country, including players from the Virginia, Texas, South Atlantic (Sally), and Southern Leagues.  The T206 series is known as the series containing the most valuable baseball card–the Honus Wagner card, which has been valued in some instances at over $2 million (based on condition).

The other three cards in LVA’s collection–of Martin (Marty) Walsh, George Cowan, and W. G. Smith–are part of the T209 photo series, printed in 1910.  … read more »

- Everybody’s Doing What? The Turkey Trot!: Irving Berlin’s Song and Latest Dance Craze Too Much For Newport News.

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

(Editor’s Note: The short scene above from Downton Abbey, part of PBS’s Masterpiece, though an English period drama, is set only weeks after the trial in Newport News and is a great example of a couple dancing the Grizzly Bear to “Everybody’s Doing It Now.”)

If you’ve ever heard “America The Beautiful” or “White Christmas” then you know the music of Irving Berlin. Considered by many critics to be the country’s greatest songwriter, many of his songs are American classics. It was very strange indeed then when one of our archivists discovered the sheet music to one of Berlin’s songs entered as evidence in an obscenity trial in Virginia.

On the evening of 3 April 1912, Newport News police arrested Olympic Theater owner E. T. Crall, song-and-dance troupe leader Palmer Hines, and his six dancing girls. That night’s act, judged too hot for the public good by police, combined Palmer singing the suggestively titled Berlin song “Everybody’s Doing It Now” with the girls dancing the Turkey Trot, the racy and very latest “animal” dance to sweep the nation.

The animal dances which emerged around 1909 and later, such as the Turkey Trot, Grizzly Bear, and Bunny Hug, were the dances of ragtime music, the popular music of its day. The Turkey Trot was the first … read more »

- A Few Of Our Favorite Things: Letterheads In The Archive Part 1

 Letterhead of Layman Brothers farm supply company in New Castle.

Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.

Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.

 The primary role of these illustrations at the time of their use was publicity. The images showed bustling factories, busy street corners, and sturdy bank buildings– all portraying ideas of solidity, activity, and progress. Other types of symbolism can be found in commercial stationery the most ubiquitous being “man’s best friend.” Dogs show up on all sorts of stationery, especially that of banks or other financial companies. Often seen is the illustration of the dog lying in front of a vault or safe, the “watch … read more »

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- LVA and CCRP Assist Hampton Circuit Court Clerk.

 LVA archivists in the Hampton Courthouse records room.

On Tuesday June 14, a team of archivists were in Hampton to assist circuit court clerk Linda Batchelor Smith in completing a records inventory of the court’s record room and to transfer selected archival records to the Library of Virginia (LVA) Archive. This visit is but one part of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program’s (CCRP) effort to assist clerks and records officers statewide in managing their records more efficiently.

 A records inventory is a tool employed by archivists and records managers to gain intellectual control over a group of records and to help institute more efficient records-keeping practices. Once an inventory is completed, a records analyst will apply relevant records retention and disposition schedules – documents that inform record keepers how long they must keep and maintain certain types of records.

The LVA is charged by the Virginia Public Records Act (PRA) with publishing these records retention and disposition schedules .  The PRA also authorizes the LVA’s role in ensuring that public records are maintained and available throughout their life cycle. The Library presents workshops, monitors the disposal of non-permanent records, and assists with the transfer of permanent records to the Archives.

Besides helping to better identify hundreds of years of records, the consultation in Hampton also resulted in the transfer of approximately 120 drawers of pre-1913 law and chancery case files to the … read more »

- Fowl Play.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia/Katie Brady photo.

Death records provide familial information to genealogists, statistical information for researchers, and an occasional chuckle for archivists.  My morbid fascination with death registers paid off one day when I found the 1876 death record of one John Smith of Fairfax County.  The person who recorded his death couldn’t resist adding:

 ”Killed by trap gun set to shoot thieves.  It got Mr. S. on the first fire – It is feared there are no chickens where John has gone.”

 Naturally, this made my whole week.  Hope you enjoy it too!

 -Kelly Gilbert Sizemore, Senior Reference Archivist 

read more »

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- CSI: OLD VIRGINIA: SCENES OF MURDER AND MAYHEM IN THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT RECORDS COLLECTION

Chesterfield County, County Court, Criminal Causes, and Grand Jury Presentments, Commonwealth v. Willis and Whitehead, 1870.

Editors Note: This post originally appeared in the former ”Virginiana” section of Virginia Memory.

The beautiful maps in the Voorhees collection and those that reside in Special Collections are well known to Library of Virginia researchers. Yet thousands of rough but informative maps exist in the Library’s local government records collection. Often classified as “plats,” these detailed property maps were created and filed as part of county land records, chancery records, or other legal proceedings.

Some of the most interesting local plats are found within criminal papers. Murder trials occasionally required jurors to consider a particular crime scene, and the resulting sketches created for this purpose offer fascinating glimpses into landscapes and violent episodes. One is featured on the Library’s 1997 web exhibit The Common Wealth: Treasures from the Collections of the Library of Virginia. This drawing shows a portion of Manchester, Virginia, in 1869, at the time of a barroom-related shooting, complete with building facades and streets. And in her 2003 book A Murder in Virginia, based on three Commonwealth Causes against Pokey Barnes, Solomon Marable, and Mary Abernathy, historian Suzanne Lebsock drew upon a court-directed plat from Prince Edward County to illustrate the scene of an infamous 1895 crime involving four black defendants.

While processing Henry County’s criminal causes, I came across a number of particularly gruesome plats. The most … read more »

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