Today we bring you another installment of our Big Find Friday series. While we love those “Eureka!” moments where a patron finds the exact, obscure document that unlocks an entire family history in one fell swoop, occasionally the historical record keeps a stingy grip on its secrets. This post shows that sometimes a patron’s “big find” is the Library of Virginia itself.
Donna Potter Phillips of Spokane, Washington, visited us in May 2014 for the National Genealogical Society’s conference. While here, she hoped to find evidence of the 1725 marriage in Williamsburg of her ancestor Marquis Calmes (b. 1705, Stafford County, Virginia) to a “fine English lady,” Winnifred Waller, and learn the identity of Waller’s parents. “Alas, I accomplished neither,” Phillips wrote to us afterward, prompting optimistic archivists to shed forlorn tears. Ah, but wait! She didn’t stop there, adding, “But I surely had a great time looking.”
As Phillips exhausted the resources of not only the Library of Virginia, but also Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg and William and Mary’s Swem Library, she was able only to determine that her ancestors did not marry at Bruton Parish. Undeterred, she proclaimed herself “comfort[ed] to know the ‘final score’ from a reputable source.” She closed by sharing that “I happily looked at everything on the Waller family that your great staff could dig up for me. … read more »
On September 17, 2014 you’ll be able ask curators from cultural institutions around the world questions on Twitter using the hashtag #AskACurator. They can be inquiries about collections, processes, personal favorites, or the field as a whole. Questions can be directed to specific institutions, or you can just use the hashtag and see who responds from around the world. In 2013, 622 museums participated in 37 countries with a total of 26,000 tweets.
We’ll be participating again this year with an enlarged panel of LVA specialists to field questions throughout the day. We’re here to open a window onto our process and the brains behind what the public sees. Our schedule of experts can be seen below. Get those questions ready!
9 am: Barbara Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator
10 am: Leslie Courtois, Conservator
11 am: Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist and Blog Editor
12 pm: Meghan Townes, Visual Studies Collection Registrar
1 pm: Audrey McElhinney, Senior Rare Book Librarian
2 pm: Adrienne Robertson, Education and Programs Coordinator
3 pm: Dale Neighbors, Prints & Photographs Collection Coordinator
4 pm: Dana Puga, Prints & Photographs Collection Specialist
Tweet your questions @LibraryofVA with #AskACurator on Sept. 17th!… read more »
A recent episode of BackStory With the American History Guys entitled “On The Take” addressed the topic of corruption in American politics and government. Host Brian Balogh interviewed legal scholar Nicholas Parrillo, who pointed out that, in an effort to prevent such corruption around the turn of the 20th century, government officials’ salaries were often paid through the fees and fines that they levied. Essentially, they were paid on commission. Some coroner’s inquest records from Bedford County recently brought that practice to light.
On 30 May 1890, jurors selected to inquire into the death of James Brown, a resident of Bedford County’s Big Island, were stumped. After reviewing the evidence, half of the jury thought that the deceased came to his death by poison, and the other half thought the cause of death was unknown. They all agreed on one thing –that Brown had shown symptoms of having been poisoned, and they wanted his stomach analyzed.
Apparently, what they wanted was expensive and somewhat complicated. State Assayer and Chemist Dr. William H. Taylor wrote from his laboratory at 606 E. Grace St. in Richmond, Virginia, a letter that described exactly how much it would cost and what he would need. He explained that the fee for the stomach analysis was $200, and that the State would only cover $25 of the cost, … read more »
The Council of State Archivists (CoSA), a national organization representing the heads of the country’s 56 state and territorial archives, presented the Library of Virginia’s Governor Tim Kaine Email Project Team with its Rising Star award in recognition of being the first state government archives in the United States to make the emails of a previous administration freely available to the public online. The award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by individual staff members or teams to their state archives and constituencies, was made at the joint meeting of the Society of American Archivists/National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators/Council of State Archivists in Washington, DC, on 14 August.
The Kaine Email Project Team put Virginia’s state archives on the forefront of open government in the modern age. The Library received approximately 1.3 million email messages from the administration of Governor Kaine (2006-2010). To date, the Library has reviewed nearly 562,000 emails, and placed 130,644 archival records online in an organized searchable database, Kaine Email Project @ LVA. Users can search and view email records from the Governor’s Office and his cabinet secretaries; learn about other public records from the Kaine Administration; go behind the scenes to see how the Library of Virginia made the email records available; and read what others are saying about the collection.
The lead … read more »
“I send you two patients to the mad stone. They are natives of this place and had their children bitten today.”
-J. Reuben Richerson to R. L. Harrison, 26 June 1893
“1/3net receipts from mad stone since same was placed into hands of R. L. Harrison.”
-written on checks from Harrison to Richerson and Maria L. Motley, 14 March 1893
“Mad stone? What’s a mad stone?” I wondered out loud.
I’d stumbled across the R. L. Harrison Papers, 1893-1901 (Library of Virginia accession 26527), during the dog days of summer. This business records collection consisted of correspondence, checks, accounts, and receipts from Harrison, a druggist in Richmond during the 1890s-1910s, to J. Reuben Richerson, Nannie E. Richerson, and Maria L. Motley, all of Caroline County, concerning something called a mad stone (or madstone) and payments for its use. Piqued by this reference, I set out to answer my own question.
I learned from the Oxford English Dictionary that a mad stone is a “stone or similar object supposedly having the power to counteract the effect of the bite of a rabid or venomous animal.” Furthermore, thanks to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, I discovered that it was a “stony concretion (as a hair ball from the stomach of a deer).” In appearance, it looked like a small stone; according to various descriptions, it could be smooth or it could be rough. The … read more »
We’re happy to announce that Making History: Transcribe is now live! This site will enable users to transcribe documents in the Library of Virginia collections in a collaborative online work space that will host 5-10 projects at a time. The goal is to generate transcriptions to allow full-text searchability in Digitool or other future delivery platforms and increase ease of use. We hope to engage the public in deciphering some of the most interesting items in the Library of Virginia Collections and, with everyone’s help, build a more searchable and useful way to access Virginia history.
The need for transcription vastly outstrips library staff time, both here at the LVA and globally. What better way to solve this dilemma than to engage the public around areas of interest? Developments in open source transcription tools, such as the Scripto for Omeka, are making it possible for users to assist cultural institutions in improving access to and understanding of our resources. Our transcription site is closely modeled after the University of Iowa’s DIY History site, in which they further developed the Omeka Scripto plugin used for crowdsourcing the transcription of documents. UI-Libraries also provided the Scribe theme which dictates the look and experience of the project. The Library of Virginia made only minor changes to UI-Libraries solution, all of which can be found within one of … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Herbert Irving Roberts, the subject of this week’s post, was a career criminal, escaped from the Virginia Penitentiary in 1928, and was “taken for a ride” and killed in New York City in 1930.
On the evening of 13 February 1927, Herbert Irving Roberts entered Mrs. Cook’s Cafeteria at 805 East Grace Street in Richmond. His accomplice, John E. Morgan, waited outside as the lookout. Roberts, armed with a gun, subdued and tied up a janitor and night watchman, cracked open the basement safe, and stole about $1,000. Roberts went to the first floor to rob another safe when the door bell rang. Frightened, Roberts left his tools and escaped through a rear window. Roberts and Morgan hurried to the Broad Street railroad station and took the 11:50 p.m. train to Washington, D.C. Richmond detectives contacted Washington police to be on the lookout for the two men. They were arrested and transported back to Richmond. Roberts, acting as his own lawyer, was tried and convicted on 14 April 1927 and sentenced to 18 years in the penitentiary.
Roberts was not incarcerated very long. On the night of 3 July 1928, Roberts made a dummy out of blankets, stuffing a … read more »
Dr. Paul J. Parker ruled on 11 June 1935, that “James A. Branch came to his death of gun shot wound while gun was in hands of Lewis Smith at No 4 Curry St Phoebus Va [sic].” However, five months later he modified his ruling when he wrote, “James Branch came to his death by a gun shot wound just below the lobe of the left ear, this occurred at the corner of Curry and County Streets, Phoebus, Va.” Lack of an explanation for this momentous change amplified the intrigue and portended a unique case in the otherwise straightforward files of Dr. Parker.
As the medical examiner for Elizabeth City County, later the City of Hampton, Dr. Parker was tasked with conducting coroner’s inquiries into any sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious deaths, or any death which occurred without medical attendance. These inquiries included conducting depositions to determine how the victim came to his or her death and, if so warranted, forwarding his findings to the Elizabeth City County Circuit Court for grand jury consideration.
In the case of James Branch, Dr. Parker, after deposing eleven witnesses, found that Lewis Smith had held the gun that fired the fatal shot. Included in this group of witnesses was Mr. Smith, whom Dr. Parker advised had been charged with murder. Interestingly Dr. Parker then did what … read more »
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. John Henry Ellis, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking and grand larceny. His temper got him in trouble several times while incarcerated.
John Henry Ellis was convicted in March 1932 in Richmond Hustings Court for housebreaking and sentenced to three years in the Penitentiary. Ellis was sent to work on State Convict Road Force Camp 19 in Wythe County where he immediately clashed with the guards. “Ellis has been saucy and impudent with the guard and foreman here,” reported Camp Sgt. M.C. Russell to Penitentiary Superintendent Rice M. Youell on 19 October 1932. His work was unsatisfactory as well. “The [State Highway Department] foreman called him out without any results,” Russell wrote. “Finally he threatened to stand him on the bank and Ellis told him he didn’t give a damn what he did with him.” Russell punished him on 5 October 1932 by making him “stand in cuffs from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. taking him down only for meals and to use the bucket.”
Ellis turned violent on 17 October 1932. While a group of prisoners worked in a quarry, one of them broke wind. Another prisoner, Robert Coleman, said to … read more »