- The Sinking of the Lusitania: 100 Years Later

Today marks the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, usually acknowledged as the first step towards the United States’ entry into World War I. The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. The death toll included 128 Americans, sparking outrage throughout the nation.

One of the survivors was Richmond native Charles Hill, who was 38 at the time of the sinking. Hill, who worked for the British-American Tobacco Company, had been living in England with his family for almost fifteen years. He returned periodically to Richmond to visit his father, C. Emmett Hill. In April, Hill, his wife Eva, and their children returned to the U.S. for the sake of her health, travelling on the Lusitania. On 1 May, Hill reboarded the Lusitania in New York, bound for Liverpool with almost two thousand other passengers and crew members.

Hill was on the starboard promenade deck of the Lusitania when it was struck, and saw both the periscope of German submarine U-20 and the wake of the torpedo. After rushing below decks in an unsuccessful attempt to find several friends, Hill returned deck and made it into lifeboat number 14, which over the course of the afternoon capsized six times. Hill clung to the lifeboat with several other … read more »

Leave a comment

Tags: , , ,

Share |

- What’s Cookin’


The Harmony Grove Cookbook. South Hill, Va. : Peebles Inc., 1994.

The Library of Virginia cookbook collection documents hundreds of churches, clubs, special interest groups, school groups, families, chef specialties, and, of course, regional cuisine. Currently the collection numbers over two thousand individual titles. Cookbooks represent local history at a real grassroots level. Frequently, cookbooks are the sole source of information on a church, club, or organization. They record contributor names, relationships, and community involvement.  In this sense, they are primary sources for local history as well as genealogical resources.

The cookbook collection also preserves the history of food culture and cooking styles in Virginia from the 18th into the 21st century. The recipes, illustrations, photographs, and sometimes personal stories document the evolution of food production and preparation. We see first-hand how food has gone from being primarily homegrown to brand name; how cooks adapted to war time economies; and, how ethnically diverse our state and eating habits have become. Cookbooks are produced with a great deal of pride in family and community traditions, and sometimes with a great deal of humor as seen in clever titles or funny illustrations. The Library is committed to collecting and preserving the rich cultural heritage represented by Virginia cookbooks. Current cataloging practice includes geographic subject headings to facilitate research using cookbooks.

Shown here is a selection of diverse types of cookbooks from a recent donation. Most of … read more »

Leave a comment

Tags: ,

Share |

- The Vietnam War and Virginia


Photograph of General Westmoreland Davis, Vietnam Wing Dedication, Virginia War Memorial, 20 November 1981, Records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission, Box 1, Folder 13, Accession 33938, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.  On 30 April 1975, Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, fell to the North Vietnamese Army.  The few U.S. Marines stationed at the American Embassy were evacuated by helicopter.  Between 1961 and 1975 over 58,000 U.S. service members died in Vietnam.  According to the Library’s Virginia Military Dead Database 1,490 Virginians were killed in the Vietnam conflict.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to highlight items from the state records collection related to Virginia’s role in the war.

The records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission (Accession 33938) contain items related to the construction and dedication of the Vietnam wing.  Included are blueprints, construction records, photographs of the dedication ceremony, program from the 20 November 1981 dedication, Vietnamese money, and a South Vietnamese flag.


Photograph of Bernard Allen Sowder from www.findagrave.com.  Photograph added to site  by Robert Libby on 21 January 2009.

The Department of Treasury’s Division of Unclaimed Property records contain two very personal collections.  The Papers of Carol A.S. Amos (Accession 43250, Lot 1192872) include correspondence notifying her of the death of her husband, Bernard Allen Sowder, in Vietnam on 4 January 1970.  Sowder was born on 4 October 1947 in Longbranch, West Virginia.  He married Carol Ann Cassell on 9 April 1969 in Amarillo, Texas.  He started his tour in Vietnam on 24 November 1969 and served in the 167th Signal … read more »

- The Long Wait for Freedom: A Montgomery County Freedom Suit

This is part two of a two part post on a fascinating freedom suit discovered during the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Project. Part one of the story was published last week.


Wanted ad, 6 August 1842, Connecticut Courant, p. 6.

Flora continued to live with the Charltons, eventually moving to the Seven Mile Tree home built by James Charlton. While there is no further evidence that Flora was able to pursue a freedom suit prior to her death, her narrative served as the basis for suits filed by her daughters and their children. James Charlton’s death in 1825 probably served as the trigger for this series of chancery suits, as Cena and Unis contemplated the possibility that their own families might be broken up and sold away. An 1825 appraisement of James Charlton’s estate indicates that he claimed twenty-one slaves, at least twelve of whom petitioned for freedom. The size and value of Flora’s family had increased since her 1784 arrival in Virginia; by 1825 they were worth over $3,000 dollars.

The series of freedom suits initiated in 1826 would not be resolved until 1853. Cena and Unis sued for their own freedom and by extension that of their children and grandchildren: Andrew, Reuben, Julius, William, Helen, Mary, Tarlton, Matilda, James, and Flora. All of these individuals were designated paupers and represented by counsel. In addition to claiming that their Flora had … read more »

2 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

Share |

- Spotsylvania County Chancery Causes Online


Spotsylvania County seal

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Spotsylvania County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1812-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website. Chancery cases are useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions. They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history.

Following are a few suits of interest found in the Spotsylvania County chancery collection. Fortune Coleman etc., vs Gdn. of Henry Coleman etc., 1900-016 is a dispute over land and mineral rights of a “colored” family.  In the Petition of Thomas M. Henry, 1906-047, this is a request to access land for development of a multi-county transit system.  Mary Ella Gray vs. James Oliver B. Gray, 1913-006, is a divorce case with an illustrative biblical certificate used as a legal as proof of marriage.

The processing and scanning of the Spotsylvania County chancery causes were made possible through the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program between the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association (VCCA), which seeks to preserve the historic records found in Virginia’s circuit courts.

–Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist… read more »

- Flora’s Plight: A Montgomery County Freedom Suit

This is part one of a two part post on a fascinating freedom suit discovered during the Montgomery County Circuit Court Records Project. Part two of the story will be published next week.


Slave Sale At Christiansburg (Va) by Lewis Miller.

Women had more to lose in the system of slavery. Saying this is not in any way meant to downplay the pernicious effects of slavery on the lives of men. However, at least in the slave system of the U.S. South, women ensnared within slavery saw their children and, if they lived long enough, their grandchildren caught in a chain of matrilineal descent predicated on the bondage status of the mother. Conversely, if one could prove that a woman was unjustly or illegally forced into slavery, she and her descendants had much to gain. The story of Flora and her daughters, Cena and Unis, makes public the double bind experienced by female slaves in the antebellum South. Their story also reveals the ongoing claims to freedom made by Flora and her family over sixty years, across three states, and throughout multiple counties in Virginia.

Flora, an African American later held as a slave in Montgomery County, Virginia, was born in the late 1750s in either Massachusetts or Connecticut. In the late 1770s Flora married “Exeter, a Negro man of Southwick” [MA], a marriage recorded by Reverend John Theodore Graham on 26 … read more »

- 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 »

2 Comments

Tags: , , ,

Share |

- 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 »

Leave a comment

Tags: , , , ,

Share |

- 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 »