Category Archives: What’s New in the Archives

- Surry Co. Cohabitation Register Goes Digital!


The Ebony Bridal - Preparing the Wedding Garment, engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 19 August 1871. (Image used courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of Surry 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 Surry County register contains some of the most delightful names that one may have had the opportunity to run across in a historical document.  Could one of these fine folks be an ancestor of yours? 

 
 


Surry County Cohabitation Register pages 20-21 which list Squire Charity and Nancy Drew.

  • Champion Blizzard
  • Mike Blow and his wife Anarchy
  • Champion Bird
  • Squire Charity
  • Nancy Drew
  • Cherry Birdsong
  • Jim Beets
  • Queen Anne Gray
  • Sharper Falcon
  • Sam Wisdom
  • Harry Honeycatt
  • Sucky Blue
  • Nancy Pooten
  • Jupiter Cheeseman
  • Indiana Charity
  • Robin Wren and his wife Amy Falcon
  • Cheeseman Smith
  • Moses Twine
  • Dolphin Morris
  • Harry Falcon and his wife Susan Hasty

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 … read more »

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- We Are Not Hoarders!

 


Former teacher Hallie T. Owen holding the Virgilina town council minute book.

In the early 1980s, Mary Helen Gravitt went looking for a coffin. Gravitt, then a secretary at Virgilina Elementary School, was looking for a Halloween decoration in an old store building but stumbled upon a piece of Virgilina’s history. So began the strange turn of events that led to the town of Virgilina’s first town council minute book’s arrival at the Library of Virginia where it will be preserved, reformatted, and stored for posterity.

Recognizing the significance of Gravitt’s find, teacher Hallie T. Owen studied the book and published an article in the South  Boston News and Record back in February 1983. Owen wrote in celebration of Virgilina’s 83rd birthday and described the town’s ordinances and regulations which ranged from the prohibition of playing marbles in town streets to allowing bar partitions that separated white and African American customers. Not knowing what to do with the volume but recognizing its importance, Mary Helen Gravitt held onto the book for the next thirty years.

At the chance request of a South Boston history buff, Owen’s 1983 article was reprinted in February of this year and spotted by the mother-in-law of one our archivists. Local Records director Carl Childs followed up on the article and with the help of Hallie Owen was able to track down the whereabouts of the minute book and persuade the … read more »

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- Cohabitation Registers Added to Digital Collection


Goochland Co. Regsiter of Colored Persons Cohabiting, 1866, information includes ages, occupations, names of slave owners, and names of children the couple had together or from a previous relationship.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the addition of records from Fluvanna, Goochland, and Montgomery Counties 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 cohabitation registers were the legal vehicles by which formerly enslaved couples legitimized their pre-slavery marriages and the children of unions that no longer existed in 1866 due to death or other circumstances such as the wife being sold away.  These records are invaluable resources for genealogists and historians alike.

Goochland and Montgomery have to date only uncovered their cohabitation registers.  Fluvanna, however, includes both the cohabitation register and the register of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit by 1866.  The registers, transcriptions, and searchable indexes are available online along with the other registers from Virginia localities in the Cohabitation Register Digital Collection in Virginia Memory. To find it use either the link provided or go to Virginia Memory, choose Digital Collections, then Collections A to Z, and finally Cohabitation Registers.

For more information on the cohabitation registers, see an earlier blog post Solid Genealogical Gold, about the Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27read more »

- Augusta Co. Images Keep Coming In!


Perspective Map of the City of Waynesboro, Virginia, 1890. (Augusta County Chancery Cause 1893-030 Fishburne vs. Quarles &c)

The latest images from the Augusta County Chancery Causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. With this addition, fifty boxes of Augusta County chancery covering the time period from 1879 through 1895 may be viewed online.



Following are a few suits of interest found in this latest addition. Augusta County Chancery Cause 1880-119 is a contract dispute that centered on the construction of an addition to Wesleyan Female Institute in Staunton. The case includes numerous exhibits such as the 1877-1878 school bulletin (image# 134-159), receipts for building materials (image# 195, 200) and two drawings of the addition (image# 213, 215). Augusta County Chancery Causes 1884-057 and 1895-023 are property disputes in which the plaintiffs accuse the defendants of doing harm to the value of their property. In the first suit, the plaintiff argues that heat and fumes from the defendant’s brick kiln adversely affected the value of his property (image# 41). In the second suit, the defendant built a slaughterhouse and stockyard near the plaintiff’s house (image# 491) polluting a stream and causing insufferable smells and noises all of which depreciated the value of the plaintiff’s property. Most notably, this portion of the Augusta County Chancery Causes includes suits that have their origins in the real estate boom and bust period of 1890s western Virginia. Many of the suits contain plats of … read more »

- CSI: Old Virginia: Coroners Edition


Slave quarters under the oaks at the Hermitage in Savannah, GA., circa 1900-1915. (Image public domain/used courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

At one o’clock in the morning on 1 September 1859, Milly T. King arrived at the home of James Clary and found his slave Hannah “lying on the hearth gasping for breath, and I thought dying.” When King saw Hannah an hour later, she was dead. The following day Brunswick County coroner William Lett arrived to examine the body.  With him were twelve men, none of whom had a medical background but rather were chosen as upstanding men and representatives of the county. The office of coroner held inquisitions in cases when persons met a sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious death. In this case Hannah had certainly met a sudden and suspicious demise.

Hannah, owned by the late Elizabeth H. Harwell, had been in the possession of James Clary, who adamantly maintained that the marks found on her feet and legs and the wound on her head were not from anything suspicious but came as a result of a fall from a window occurring a few weeks before her death. The coroner and his jury of white men were left to decide if Hannah had suffered an accidental death or if her death had been caused by something more malicious. Clary’s wife, Eliza, backed up her husband’s statements and claimed to know nothing of Hannah’s death, maintaining that her wounds were caused by the fall. … read more »

- Spoils of War Return Home to Virginia



On Thursday, October 20, staff from the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch were in Jersey City, New Jersey, to formally accept one of the Commonwealth’s long-lost treasures – a Stafford County record book taken from Virginia in 1863 by a Union officer serving in a New York regiment.

The volume, an order book detailing the daily activities of the court from 1749 to 1755, was transcribed by a Stafford deputy clerk in 1791.  The book was removed from the Stafford courthouse by Captain W. A. Treadwell of the 4th N.Y. Regiment and was long considered to be a casualty of the war.  A note inside the front cover and presumably in Treadwell’s hand states that it was “Taken from Stafford Court House, March 30 1863.”


Stafford County Order Book, 1749-1755, taken from the Stafford courthouse by Capt. W. A. Treadwell in 1862.

The volume was handed down several times over many years before it was presented to the Hudson County Historical Society. The Society’s collection eventually was transferred to the collection of the Jersey City Free Public Library’s New Jersey Room. Recognizing that the order book did not fit within the New Jersey Room’s collection policy, Jersey City Public Library’s John Beekman contacted the LVA to return the volume to its rightful home in Virginia.  The volume will be conserved at LVA’s in-house conservation lab and scanned and microfilmed to ensure its preservation. Scanned images will be presented to the … read more »

- Building Furniture, Building Up the South

Image from Green & Brother catalog, 1871. Ephraim Baker Records, 1857-1910. Accession 50152. Business records collection, The Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia recently acquired business records of Ephraim Baker (1836-1919) of Mount Olive, Virginia (Accession 51052).  Baker, born on 13 December 1836 in Topnot, Shenandoah County, Virginia, was the son of Lewis Baker (1808-1889) and Anna Dellinger (1811-1879). He operated a general store in Mount Olive for most of his life. The store was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Ephraim Baker was married twice, and died on 19 June 1919. He is buried in St. Stephen’s Cemetery in Strasburg.

The majority of the collection consists of correspondence, accounts, and accounts of sales to Baker from commission merchants in Alexandria and Baltimore. The correspondence includes information on market conditions and current prices of goods being sold. There are also circulars, advertisements, and price lists from various merchants. Baker was an agent for the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Watertown, New York, and the collection contains correspondence and invoices from the company’s headquarters. Also included are customer orders from local residents requesting goods from Baker’s store.

Among the records is an 1871 Green & Brother catalog with annotated prices. Nineteenth century furniture catalogs or price lists are fairly unusual to find, and this one has particular importance for the furniture making business in Virginia. As early as 1820, English born cabinetmaker William Green was advertising his furniture in the Alexandria Gazetteread more »

- Johnny 99: The Records of the Virginia Penitentiary Now Available


Aerial view of Virginia Penitentiary, 24 January 1954, Adolph B. Rice Studio, Rice Collection 257B, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the records of the Virginia Penitentiary (Accession 41558) are now available to researchers.  The collection contains 289 bound volumes and 698 boxes of paper records spanning nearly 200 years (1796-1991; bulk 1906-1970). Included are administrative records such as annual reports, correspondence, office and subject files, minute books, photographs, and blueprints, as well as specific records related to the State Convict Road Force and State Convict Lime Grinding Board. Also included are financial records such as account books, cash books, ledgers, payrolls, and receipt books. The prisoner-related records include: prisoner registers, 1865-1980; photographs and negatives, 1906-1914, 1934-1961 and 1965-1966; medical records; commitment orders; punishment records; escape reports; index cards; and execution files. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary document the institution’s operational history, prisoners, and the evolution of corrections in Virginia.

The Virginia Penitentiary collection came to the Library in multiple accessions over several decades. In many cases, the original order of the material had been disturbed or was unidentifiable.  The bulk of this collection has never been accessible.  Researchers are strongly urged to read the Virginia Penitentiary finding aid.  The guide describes the contents of the collection in detail.  It also notes the significant gaps in the collection as well as cross-references to other collections at the Library of Virginia containing Penitentiary material.

I found … read more »

- Petersburg Chancery Reveals Rich African American History

 Newspaper notice describing the physical appearance of runaway slave Davey, Petersburg Chancery Cause 1827-003, William Smith vs. Benjamin W. B. Jones.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the first installment of images from the Petersburg chancery causes digitization project have been added to the Chancery Records Index. This project has been funded, in part, through a $155,071 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Images for the first forty-four boxes of chancery suits have been added to the index (circa 1803-1845). The boxes are not strictly chronological, so not all images for a given year are available. Additional images will be added periodically as the project progresses. Be sure to check back!

Here are some interesting suits that archivists found while processing, indexing, and conserving the collection. Many other fascinating and complex stories will surely be uncovered once the project is complete and the collection is studied by students, scholars, and family historians.

Transcript of Benjamin W. B. Jones Letter to William Smith, 5 February 1826

Petersburg chancery cause 1827-003 involves a dispute over a runaway slave named Davey, alias Davey Smith. Exhibits found in the suit include a notice published in a local newspaper describing Davey’s physical appearance, occupation, and his escape (image 22). The suit also contains letters from Benjamin W. B. Jones of Alabama claiming that he was Davey’s owner (image 27). 

Also in the newly released images there are two suits that involve an African American … read more »

- Franklin Co. Chancery Added To CRI!

One of the county's historical markers. Image from Wikimedia and used courtesy of MarmadukePercy.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Franklin County chancery causes, 1787-1912, are now available on the Chancery Records Index.  Digital images are available for the years 1787-1912. The complete index covers the years 1787-1929, and original records 1913-1929 are available at The Library of Virginia. Additional post-1913 records are available at the Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Following are a few suits of interest found in this collection.

Franklin County chancery cause 1873-050 includes a detailed report on the division of slaves (image# 10-12), including the ages of the slaves.  There are suits such as 1836-009 and 1885-027 that involve Franklin County native son and Confederate General, Jubal A. Early, who practiced law in Franklin County before and after the Civil War.  Chancery cause 1867-005 is a sad but scandalous divorce suit between James C. Smith and Lucy F. Smith.  James Smith returned home from fighting in the Civil War only to learn that his wife had been unfaithful while he was away (image# 2-3). The suit includes depositions given by Mrs. Smith’s paramours describing their secret getaways. Chancery cause 1870-006 gives details on the many difficulties women encountered while managing estates.  The plaintiff, Nancy B. Ferguson, entrusted the defendant, her nephew Thomas B. Ferguson, with running the day to day affairs of her estate which included numerous … read more »