- A Day in the Archives with Who Do You Think You Are?


Archival stacks.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was called to a meeting in the Library’s Special Collections reading room on a busy day in September 2014. A certain amount of skullduggery and mystery surrounded the parlay with staff from a yet-to-be-identified TV show about genealogy. Already other Library of Virginia staff members had unearthed a set of documents that related to a certain Benjamin Sharpe from a remote section of Virginia. I was to provide context with a few of my colleagues. The meeting went smoothly enough—a free-ranging discussion of the election of 1800, life in a remote section of Virginia, and slavery in the Appalachian region. Did I know a historian who could speak on camera with the show’s star for filming? Certainly. I recommended a few names and returned to my work.

A few days later the e-mail arrived. Would I be the foil for the unnamed actor? I was surprised and flattered, as I recall, but also a bit wary of the assignment. Having some familiarity with shows of this type, I felt hesitant. Such TV episodes, like a movie or any other kind of storytelling, must have a narrative arc. Having been a “talking head” for many documentaries and short media pieces, I realized that my part would be boiled down and edited to serve that narrative. I do the … read more »

- Why Research Family History?

“All eastern Virginians are Shintoists under the skin. Genealogy makes history personal to them in terms of family. Kinship to the eighth degree usually is recognized.”

—Douglas Southall Freeman, “The Spirit of Virginia,” in Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion




Those born in Virginia (or those who have lived here for any length of time) will either nod approvingly or roll their eyes at this quip by the famed historian and biographer Douglas Southall Freeman. The mind easily turns to Virginians bowing down at the sacred altars of their ancestors. Being a New Englander with a long lineage in this country, I can appreciate the sentiment. My own father at one time presided over the Kimball Family Association, which, because of Brigham Young’s lieutenant Heber Kimball from Vermont, likely has as many members in Utah as in New England. And we know that genealogy is serious business there!

But it was not always so. America’s complicated relationship with family history stems from our founding, when the new country’s leaders consciously threw off the chains of hereditary rights and aristocracy. George Mason asserted this sentiment in the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776: “That no Man, or Set of Men are entitled to exclusive or separate Emoluments or Privileges from the Community, but in Consideration of public Services; which not being descendible, neither ought the … read more »

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- There Are No Small Preventions, Only Smallpox

Before the Commonwealth of Virginia began officially recording vital statistics in 1853, many people recorded the births, deaths, and marriages in their families in the pages of their family bibles. The Library of Virginia has in its collection thousands of such bible records, which provide precious information, frequently recorded nowhere else, to researchers of family history.

The Needham family of York County recorded many births, deaths, and marriages in their family bible, including the births of seven children between 1774 and 1791. They chose, however, to include an unusual piece of medical information. Directly under the list of births there is a notation reading, “1792 November the above children wear anockerlated with the smallpox.” The inoculation of their six living children against smallpox– one of whom was less than a year old – was clearly of great importance to the Needhams. Having already lost an infant child, whose cause of death is not recorded, the Needhams likely wanted to protect their living children from at least one of the deadly diseases that killed so many in the 18th century.

Smallpox had long been a scourge in North America, from the epidemic in New England in the 1630s, which killed a significant percentage of the Native American population, to the continent-wide outbreak from 1775 to 1782. Smallpox, caused by the variola major virus, was likely … read more »

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- Dinwiddie County Resources Online


Seal of Dinwiddie County

Recently, the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services staff visited the Dinwiddie County Circuit Court Clerk’s office in preparation for the spring grants cycle of the Circuit Court Records Preservation  (CCRP) program. While discussing the records available in the records room at the courthouse, Clerk of the Circuit Court Barrett Chappell, Jr., informed us that his office has provided free online access to some historical Dinwiddie County documents. These records include a surveyor’s plat book (1752-1865), Works Progress Administration historical inventory, Board of Supervisors books (1870-2004), book of fiduciaries (1871-1904), land tax records (1782-1875), and a compilation of land tax, grant, and patent records (1752-1820). In addition, Chappell will be adding additional records as they are preserved and digitized in the coming years with funding provided by Dinwiddie County. He foresees adding orders books that range in date from 1789 to 1900 and a marriage register dated 1867-1874 by June 2015.

In addition to the Dinwiddie County chancery causes digitized and made freely available online by the CCRP, these records may be of particular interest to those researching Dinwiddie County history or family connections. The records might also be useful to persons determining modern boundary lines or other property issues.

The records are available from the Dinwiddie County website. We thank Mr. Chappell for sharing news of this resource with us, and appreciate his … read more »

- Sneak Peek: April 18 Voorhees Lecture

The 2015 Alan M. and Nathalie Voorhees Lecture on the History of Cartography will be held at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 18 April.   This year’s lecture features two guest speakers: Dr. Susan Schulten will speak on “The Sectional Crisis and The Reinvention of Cartography,” and Cassandra Britt Farrell will give a talk entitled “Field of Battle:  A Changing Landscape.”  This event includes a special one-day exhibition of maps relating to the talks from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Today on Out of the Box we present a sneak preview of two of the maps from the Library’s collection that will be on display.


Map by Edwin Hergesheimer representing the distribution of slaves in Virginia, based on information gleaned from the U.S. Population Census of 1860. LVA Call Number G3881.S5 1861 .G7.

The above map by Edwin Hergesheimer represents the distribution of slaves in the commonwealth based on information gleaned from the U.S. Population Census of 1860. Gray tints indicate the percentage of slaves in each county, highlighting a significant regional difference between the northwestern counties, labeled “Kanawha,” with the Tidewater and Southside.  This map was copyrighted in 1861 by Henry S. Graham and “Sold for the benefit of the sick and wounded [soldiers] of the U.S. Army.”


MAP OF THE LOWER VALLEY. Copied by C.W. Oltmanns, 1863, from the original by Samuel Howell Brown. LVA Call Number G3882.S52 1863 .B7.

In 1863, C.W. Oltmanns, a Confederate topographical engineer, copied the above Map of the Lower Valley from the original drawn by Samuel Howell Brown. Both men worked for Jedidiah Hotchkiss, the chief of General Stonewall Jackson’s topographical staff. It identifies the names of residents … read more »

- Kaine Email Project @ LVA – Who is Rusty Shackleford?

This is the eighth in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration.  These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).

Who is Rusty Shackleford?  This was a question that I asked myself when I conducted an inventory of the email files the Kaine administration transferred to the Library in January 2010.  Rusty’s email box was unusual.  It contained 553 messages from the summer of 2008.  None of the messages had been opened and none were addressed to him personally.  I made a note of this in my spreadsheet and moved on to the next email box.  I had forgotten about Rusty until I processed the email of Paul Brockwell, conflict of interest director in the secretary of the commonwealth’s office, two years later.  I discovered that Kaine administration staffers were also curious about the identity of the mysterious Rusty Shackleford.

The following August 2008 email exchange between Brockwell; David Allen, Northrup Grumman; Amber Amato, director of constituent services; Kate Paris, executive assistant to the chief of staff and counselor to the governor; and Bernard Henderson, deputy secretary of the commonwealth, documents the administration’s search for Rusty.

The Kaine administration never did discover the identity of Rusty Shackleford but the crack staff at the Library of … read more »

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- “Straight to the Source” conference coming to the Library of Virginia


Photographs found in Montgomery County chancery cause 1925-002, Florence S. Casper vs. John J. Casper alias J.J. Cosmato, processed as part of the Montgomery County Chancery Project. Learn more during Sarah Nerney's presentation at the Straight to the Source conference, 27 March 2015.

We are excited to announce that the Friends of the Virginia State Archives 23rd Annual Spring Conference will be held at the Library of Virginia on Friday, 27 March 2015. This year’s theme, “Straight to the Source,” will be explored in presentations by four knowledgeable LVA staffers.

The conference will kick off with an expert guide to perhaps the Library of Virginia’s most powerful resource—its website. With layer after layer of unique and fascinating material, it can be easy to miss some of the site’s offerings. Digital Initiatives & Web Services Manager Kathy Jordan will give attendees a tour that will hit all of the highlights and equip them for “web wise” independent navigation.

For those researching Revolutionary War-era ancestors, the Library has no shortage of information waiting to be accessed. Archives Reference Coordinator Minor Weisiger will guide listeners to an array of useful tools, from compiled service records, pensions, and bounty warrants, to lesser-known resources including naval records, Auditor’s Office records, legislative petitions, Continental Congress papers, the Draper Manuscripts, the online George Rogers Clark papers database, and miscellaneous personal papers collections.

Regular readers of Out of the Box may already have heard of two big projects that the Library is proud to support, both of which will be discussed at the conference. The Montgomery County Chancery Project, funded in large part by an NHPRC grant, is nearing the … read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday: Sterilization Edition


Dr. Charles V. Carrington, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1 November 1911, page one.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.   The genesis of this post came from reading Paul Lombardo’s 2009 book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles:  Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell.  My curiosity about Virginia’s eugenics program (1924-1979) was sparked by legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to compensate victims of this policy, and the Library of Virginia’s collections of archival records from Central Virginia Training Center and Western State Hospital, both including sterilization records.

While reading Lombardo’s book, I was surprised to learn that Dr. Charles Carrington, surgeon to the Virginia State Penitentiary from 1900 to 1911, involuntarily sterilized 12 inmates between 1902 and 1910.  Carrington revealed his “work” in a series of articles in the Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly in 1908, 1909, and 1910.  Carrington’s actions occurred over a decade prior to the passage of the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924.  While Carrington’s articles did not include the names of the prisoners he sterilized, I was able to identify 10 of the 12 using the penitentiary medical records.[1]  Nine of the 10 were black; seven of 10 were admitted to mental hospital while incarcerated.  In 1910 Dr. Carrington asserted that ten of the twelve were “insane, consistent … read more »

- Henry County Cohabitation Register Update


Marriage ceremony of black soldier and a freedwoman at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Harper's Weekly, June 30, 1866.

The conservation of the original pages of the Henry County Cohabitation Register has recently been completed.  Previously, only a poorly and confusingly microfilmed version of this register was available for researchers and was the only option to be digitized for inclusion in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory.  Thanks to the diligent efforts of Vickie Stone Helmstutler, the Henry County Circuit Court clerk, the original register pages were located in the courthouse and sent to the Library for conservation.  The conserved pages of the register were digitized and the digitized microfilm images have been replaced with images of the conserved original document.  We hope that researchers find these images a great improvement over the others, which were dark and difficult to read.

A comparison of pictures taken before and after conservation reveals the improvements made to the damaged original document.  Library of Virginia conservator Leslie Courtois dry cleaned the paper surfaces, humidified and flattened creases and crumpled edges, then repaired tears and losses with Japanese tissue and deacidified the document.

To get a better idea of what these conservation processes look like, please view the YouTube video made about conservation undertaken in 2011 on the cohabitation register from Montgomery County.  The Henry County Cohabitation Register is now in a stable and preserved state which will allow this very valuable record to exist for … read more »

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- Name that town


Unidentified town plan by Thomas R. Dunn. Library of Virginia Maps Collection.

The Library of Virginia began accessioning maps in 1911. Today its collection has grown to encompass several types of maps, including town plans. One of those plans is currently the center of a mystery for Library of Virginia staff members. Completed by Thomas R. Dunn in the late 19th century, it is drawn with pen and ink on cloth and measures 29 1/2 x 27 1/8 inches. The featured town is 16 blocks wide and 15 blocks high with 4 block spaces in the center. Streets running horizontally are named after states: Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Colorado. Vertically-laid streets are identified sequentially from First Avenue to Sixteenth Avenue. Beyond this basic information, the plan is unnamed and unidentified. What town does it represent?

Dunn did notate the plan but he didn’t include an index to explain the numerous abbreviations. Several lots are identified by surnames but we haven’t been able to verify if they represent the names of lot owners. A search through ProQuest’s digital Sanborn maps collection was not conclusive but there are several Virginia localities that include sections similar to Dunn’s plan, including Portsmouth. The 1920 Sanborn map of the City of Portsmouth is the first we know of featuring a similarly-laid section.

So, what more do we know? T.R. … read more »

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