- Love Hurts, Ooooooooo, Oooooo, Love Hurts.


Vintage Valentine's Day card, Ephemera collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

While working on a project involving the Middlesex County Chancery Causes, I noticed a case that was filled with scandal and intrigue.  The case is a divorce suit, Middlesex Chancery Cause 1907-033, Andrew Courtney vs. Mary Courtney.  In the suit, both parties accuse the other of adultery.  Andrew claimed his wife ran off to Connecticut with a married man named Beverly Smith.  Mary claimed Andrew was guilty of adultery himself.

She produced as evidence several letters written to her husband by various women, one of which included a lock of hair.  That letter, dated 30 August 1906 from a Miss Ginny Davis, proclaimed “Here is a peice [sic] of my hair look at it and think of me.”

While it is sad to think that some of the love letters that end up in the archives are the result of divorce suits and romance gone wrong in one way or another, it also proves the quest for love is something that is surely timeless.

The Middlesex Chancery Causes, including the above-referenced lock of hair, are available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site. They are part of the growing list of chancery causes from various localities that have been digitally reformatted and made available through the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program … read more »

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- Montgomery County’s Prairie Flower Boys


The Moonbeam, page 005.

In the courthouses of Virginia, one can often find records that are not and were never under the official purview of the clerks of the court.  Newspapers, church minutes, private papers, and other records of these kinds turn up as the collections are searched by today’s researchers.  The private papers of Charles J. Callison are an example of one such find in the Montgomery County Circuit Court records.Discovered in a file cabinet drawer of court judgments and estate bonds, the Callison papers consist of two issues of a handwritten newsletter titled “The Moonbeam,” two bound booklets, and a loose sheet of paper.  Most of these seem to have been composed when Callison was a child or at least a young man.  They concern his interests in hunting, nature, and wild adventure stories.  There is no discernible reason why these papers should have found their way into the courthouse, but it is delightful to us that they did.

According to the 1880 federal census, Charles J. Callison was born in Virginia.  Eighteen years of age at that time, he lived at home in Montgomery County with his parents and his five brothers and sisters.  His father, Isaac, was a shoemaker according to the 1880 census and a farmer according to the 1900 census.  Other information about Callison is thin on the ground.  He served in the … read more »

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- A ‘Salty’ take on survival


CERTIFICATE OF SURVIVAL, 2 May 1945, issued to Grayson Boyer upon the conclusion of the Battle of the South Atlantic. (Grayson B. Boyer Papers, 1937-1945, Accession 50238, Personal Papers Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond)

In cataloging the papers of Grayson B. Boyer (1915-1970) of Grayson County, Virginia, one cannot help but notice the dramatically-titled and cheekily-illustrated “Certificate of Survival” issued to Boyer upon completion of the Battle of the South Atlantic during World War II.  As well as being a unique marker of the end of a major wartime naval effort, the document also helps offset the Library of Virginia’s surprising scarcity of holdings featuring cartoon images of lusty, bare-chested mermaids.

Dated 2 May 1945 and given some semblance of credibility by the facsimiled signature of Admiral J.H. Ingram, commander of the South Atlantic forces, the document humorously celebrates the various achievements of Boyer and his fellow sailors. These range from spending months (19, in Boyer’s case) “in a state of moral indecision and physical peril,” to “enduring the rigors of Gin tonicas and Caçhaca.”  The mock-solemn text concludes by commending  Boyer’s “placing in sacrifice the best years of his life on the gilded altar of Pan-American Relations.”

The document’s light tone is further indicated by its comic drawings. The aforementioned mermaid and two similarly-clad women (who are given the courtesy of names–Maria and Inez–if not opaque bikini tops) are surrounded by fish, sea horses, and shells.  Still, the accompanying aircraft carrier, blimp, and seaplane remind the viewer that this is war, not merely a pleasure cruise.

Our hero the American sailor is featured triumphantly, flanked by his mermaid gal pal and … read more »

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- We Know What’s Best For You: The Virginia Division of Motion Picture Censorship


 Baby Face movie poster, 1933.

From 1922 to 1966, the Virginia Division of Motion Picture Censorship was responsible for reviewing all motion picture films and their associated advertising materials– banners, posters, newspaper and magazine ads– to determine if the content was obscene or bereft of good morals. First established as the Board of Censors, but later reorganized as a division within the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law, the body licensed those films that passed review and collected fees for those licenses.

One movie that came under the division’s scrutiny was Baby Face. Produced by Warner Brothers in 1933, the film featured Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent. The plot followed Stanwyck as Lily “Baby Face” Powers, a young woman whose early life included a stint as a barmaid in her father’s saloon.  In this decidedly sordid atmosphere, Lily constantly fights off the advances of much older men. Upon her father’s death, she takes the opportunity to leave the small mining community and head to the big city via boxcar.  As a way to better her station in life, she pursues nearly every man she meets in an effort to climb the social ladder.  She finds employment at a bank and seduces a young bank clerk (played by John Wayne), then moves on to his supervisor. He is followed by a bank vice president and, finally, she marries … read more »

- “We want the machine to work…not as an office ornament” – Charles Keiley vs. the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Company


Hooven Automatic Typewriter, ca. 1923 (image from Branford House Antiques - http://branfordhouseantiques.com/cgi-bin/p/awtp-product.cgi?d=branford-house-antiques&item=35118)

One of my Sunday pleasures is reading David Segal’s bi-weekly “The Haggler” column in the New York Times.  “The Haggler” tries to resolve reader-submitted 21st century horror stories of bad customer service.  Virginia’s War History Commission could have used “The Haggler” in 1920 as they battled the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Company to repair their machine.

Created in 1919 by Governor Westmoreland Davis, the Virginia War History Commission’s goal was “to complete an accurate and complete history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the World War.”  The Commission consisted of sixteen leading citizens appointed by the governor including:  Reverend Collins Denny; Brigadier General Jo Lane Stern, Adjutant General of Virginia; Douglas Southall Freeman, editor of the Richmond News-Leader; State Librarian Henry R. McIlwaine; and Colonel Charles R. Keiley, Executive Secretary of the Second Virginia Council of Defense.  Arthur Kyle Davis, president of Southern Female College in Petersburg, was named chairman of the commission.  Local branches were created to collect records of their community’s military and civilian activities. The commission needed a machine to create form letters for all of their correspondence with branch members.  However, they wanted each letter to appear to be an “original” – not a mimeograph or carbon.  After witnessing a demonstration of such a machine, Keiley purchased a Hooven Automatic Typewriter in February 1920 for … read more »

- Season’s Greetings, We Will Be Back in January 2015!


Christmas Menu, 25 December 1918, Second Company, First Battalion, 155th Depot Brigade Training Center, Camp Lee, Virginia, Virginia War History Commission, Series IV. Virginia Camps and Cantonments, Subseries C. Camp Lee, Box 44, Folder 1, Accession 37219, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.


Christmas Menu, 25 December 1918, page two and three.

These are some examples of how soldiers at Camp Lee, Virginia, celebrated Christmas in 1918.  The records of the Virginia War History Commission have been processed and are open to researchers.

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist… read more »

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- Hampton Coroner Records Reveal Social History


Elizabeth City County (now Hampton) Courthouse.

Dr. Paul Parker, medical examiner of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, wrapped up a 19 April 1935 coroner’s inquest by ruling that “Dorothy McGaha Reeves came to her death on April 15th, 1935, of general peritonitis and perforated uterus as a direct result of a criminal abortion performed by Dr. N[elson]. F[rederick]. McNorton, of York County (Yorktown), Virginia, on the 9thday of April, 1935. Death occurred at the Dixie Hospital, Hampton, Virginia, on April 15th, 1935, about 12:20, A. M.”

Dr. McNorton was arrested on 15 April but charges were not disclosed. Authorities were led to him based on a deathbed statement given by Reeves, as well as Dr. Parker’s inquest findings. The Danville Bee reported that Reeves purportedly went to Dr. McNorton’s office for the illegal operation on the evening of 9 April in the company of Nellie Frye. Five days later, without ever having returned to work, Reeves was taken to the hospital where she died the following morning. In addition to Dr. McNorton’s arrest, later revealed to be on charges of second-degree murder and performing an illegal operation, Frye was also arrested. She was held as a material witness and also on the charge of being an accessory to the illegal operation.

Dr. McNorton belonged to a noted and influential African American family in Yorktown. His father, … read more »

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- Big Find Friday: Reference staff to the rescue

Here on Out of the Box we like to take the occasional Friday to let patrons of the Library of Virginia tell our readers of their research success stories.  We call it Big Find Friday, and today we bring you the latest installment.

James and Andra Krehbiel made the long journey all the way from Arizona to Richmond to research the descendants of Jacob Wees (1733-1826) of Muddy Creek, Pennsylvania, and Elkins, (West) Virginia.  Their visit yielded valuable information on some ten generations of the family (variations of the surname include Weese, Wease, and Wiess). 

“While we had names and dates for most, we were in need of a great deal of assistance to locate ‘the story’ of each,” the Krehbiels wrote in their “My Big Find” submission.  “This could never have been done without the amount of help your staff provided and which we never expected.”

The couple specifically thanked Bill Luebke, Dave Grabarek, Ginny Dunn, and Lisa Werhmann for their help, adding that “As both of us have doctorates and have done our share of research, we can attest that the staff of the Library of Virginia is outstanding.”

If you want to “get to know” your ancestors a little better, we would love for you to take advantage of our unique and impressive resources – including our dedicated reference staff.  For those just getting … read more »

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- “Nothing but…”


Handwritten copy (page 1 of 2) of a Civil War era poem, found in the papers of the Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia. CW 150 Legacy Project.

The Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia, had seven children, among them three sons who all served in the Confederate army. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has scanned a significant number of the family’s letters and miscellany; one item is a handwritten poem which I initially theorized was the work of a Runkle daughter. No obvious identification could be made, as the poem itself was unsigned, the scanning of the object was not accompanied by further detail as to its writer, and attempts at locating more personal information about the family were unsuccessful.

This is a pity, for the poem is an enormously rich document, written by a hand quite obviously skilled in the art form. A Google search of a refrain that appears throughout the poem (“Oh, he’s nothing but a soldier”) offers some hints, revealing that the poem was in fact a widely-distributed work.  A reference to it appears in The Southern War Poetry of the Civil War, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis by Esther Parker Ellinger, published by Hershey Press in 1918.  According to its listing in the book’s index, the poem is an air set to the tune of “Annie Laurie,” and is credited to “A Young Rebelle, Esq.”  Perhaps a Runkle woman was the mysterious “Young Rebelle,” but more than likely a family member copied it down … read more »

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- Stafford County Chancery Goes Digital


Stafford anniversary logo

2014 has been a special year filled with special events for Stafford County. Celebrating its 350th anniversary, the county held numerous community-based historical celebrations to mark the occasion.  On January 4, some 4,300 people kicked off the commemoration with an inaugural event—complete with an interactive history tent and a “live history timeline” enacted by elementary students. Founders Day festivities, held May 3-4, gathered together 59 groups with 655 participants to showcase different aspects of the county’s history—with a parade, history square, and county-wide school fine arts program. Close to 13,000 people turned out for this unique sesquarcentennial jubilee. The Local Records Services branch of the Library of Virginia was selected to participate and staff a table displaying mounted reproductions of county documents found in its archival collections.

Individuals researching Stafford County history know that it is a locality that has experienced a massive loss of its loose records and volumes. Helping provide a context for earlier surviving documents (see the Lost Localities Digital Collection) as well as adding to the county’s ongoing story, the digital images for the Stafford County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1866-1912, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site. Because these documents rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information … read more »