- Magic Lantern After-Show Turns Deadly


Phantasmagoria by James Gillray, 1803. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

Sometimes what starts out in fun can turn into a deadly accident.  That’s exactly what happened on 5 September 1894, in Bedford County, Virginia, when John Robinson decided it would be amusing to play a prank on some friends.

The friends had attended a magic lantern show held at the “Negro church” in Montvale, Virginia, and it was after the show that John Robinson devised his idea for a prank. Bud Anderson was there that night and told about the events that led up to the incident. “The show closed at 10:15 P.M. I stayed a few minutes afterwards and went with Bob Rosebrugh and met [Robinson] on the railroad crossing.” Robinson had “proposed a plan to scare Hunter Clark and John Minter, who had gone home with the Flood girls.” He shared his plan with Anderson and Rosebrugh, who told him, “I’m afraid Hunter Clark will shoot.” Not to be deterred, Robinson left for “some minutes” and returned with a rope and white garment.  Robinson took the rope and garment and crossed the creek “by the Bluff Road.” Some 20 minutes later, Anderson and Rosebrugh heard four pistol shots.

Hunter Clark was able to fill in the details about the prank that went horribly awry: “Just before we got to the creek at Rice’s Mill, I ran against a white garment tied to a … read more »

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- “What’s in a name?”

As Juliet Capulet asked, “What’s in a name?” Well, for some Virginians of centuries past, quite a lot. So much so that a few staff members began keeping a list of interesting names discovered while working on the public service desks at the Library of Virginia. Soon, other staff members in the archival processing sections began contributing interesting and unusual names to the list.

We thought these names were too good to keep to ourselves, so we started posting them to the Library’s Twitter feed under the hashtags #FunnyNames #FromTheArchives.  We share these in the spirit of good fun and hope you’ll enjoy the interesting array of monikers. Who knows, maybe the posts can help revive period names like Elmadoras and Waldegrave and liven up roll call in Virginia’s schools.

-Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist… read more »

- “I speak for the trees!”


Plat, 9 September 1741, Lancaster County Chancery Cause William Edmonds, infant vs. Robert Edmund, infant, 1751-001, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Flora of Virginia, the Library of Virginia’s latest exhibition, highlights the botanical exploration of Virginia from the colonial days to the present.  Curated in partnership with the Flora of Virginia Project, the exhibition explores the history of botanical description and illustration and celebrates the power of the flower.  It features original artwork and colorful illustrations from the LVA’s collections, as well as books, photographs, and plant specimens. With the exhibit as inspiration, I wondered what flora history could be uncovered in Virginia’s local court records. Plats and surveys, documents frequently included as exhibits in court cases, are excellent resources to discover which trees grew where in Virginia counties. Trees were often used as landmarks in plats or were included by the survey maker as decorative elements to their work. My search revealed a wealth of plat and survey examples from different parts of the state spanning over 250 years of Virginia history.

B. A. Colonna, the deputy county surveyor of Northampton County, drew a unique and detailed plat of Catherine H.G. Kendall’s land.  His 15 January 1869 plat included symbols for the pine, oak, and gum trees growing on her land and a key to identify what each symbol represented.  This plat is part of Northampton County Chancery Cause 1869-015, Samuel E. D. Kellam & wife vs. Juliet J. Kendall, etc.

A 19 … read more »

- Kaine Email Project@LVA – Sunshine Week Edition

This is the fourth 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).

Sunshine Week “is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” In honor of Sunshine Week, 16-22 March 2014, this week’s post focuses on how a 2008 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by a state delegate led to a Kaine administration prohibition on printing by state agencies.


Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District.  Photo from Virginia House of Delegates web page.

In November 2008, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) submitted a FOIA request to all state agencies asking for a copy of each publication with a print run exceeding 100 copies.  He also wanted to know the printing costs for each publication and the name of the printer.  Upon receipt of Lingamfelter’s letters, agencies contacted Kaine administration staffers for further guidance.  Gena Boyle, special assistant to the governor for policy, forwarded one such email to Chief of Staff Wayne Turnage on 1 December 2008.  Turnage replied that “I’m sure he [Lingamfelter] expects to find millions in printing costs.  With the advent of web to hold reports he will be disappointed – I hope.”

Wayne Turnage, Chief of Staff to Governor Tim Kaine (2007-2010); Deputy Chief of Staff (2006-2007).

With the support of Delegate Lingamfelter, the administration consolidated his requests and treated them as one FOIA … read more »

- King William Co. Chancery Now Online!


Letterhead for the Terminal Hotel, West Point, Virginia. King William County (Va.) Chancery Cause Anderson Bourgeoise, etc. vs. Daniel L. Risley, 1904-026, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for the King William County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1868-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site. Because they rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information and are especially useful when researching local, state, social, or legal history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that are especially helpful in documenting the African American experience, family history, women’s history, and Southern business and labor history. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.

The King William chancery causes contain several suits which illustrate the experiences of Native Americans in the Tidewater region. The Mattaponi Tribe is represented in Chancery Cause 1895-002, George F. Custalow vs. James S. Robinson, Trustee. In the case, two members of the Mattaponi Tribe, Custalow and Austin Key, dispute ownership over a piece of land.  In Chancery Cause Walter Miles vs. Alice Miles, 1907-006, two members of the Pamunkey Tribe, living in Indian Town, head to the King William County court to seek a divorce. Walter Miles claimed that on 15 November 1904 he was called before the chiefs of the tribe to face a charge … read more »

- Latest Digital Images of Legislative Petitions Now Available


Page 1 of petition, citizens of Shinnston, 1861, Harrison County, Legislative Petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia. See gallery at end of article to view rest of petition.

Digital images of legislative petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776 to 1865, from Fairfax County through King William County have been added to the Legislative Petitions Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes the present-day West Virginia counties of Fayette, Gilmer, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hancock, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, and Kanawha, as well as Kentucky County, now a part of the state of Kentucky. It also includes numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities such as Fairfax, Gloucester, Hanover, James City, King and Queen, and King William Counties. With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available for viewing online currently exceeds 11,000.

One common topic found in the legislative petitions that would be of particular interest to genealogists is that of name changes. Virginia citizens could petition the General Assembly to have their names changed.  Typically this was done for inheritance purposes. In 1851, Richard Ballinger of Floyd County filed a petition to change the surname of his nine stepchildren from Lovell to Ballinger so that they could be heirs at law of his estate. William W. Finney of Accomack County filed a petition to change not just his surname but his whole name in order to receive his inheritance. Finney’s uncle, John Arrington, wrote in his will that the only … read more »

- Henry Co. Cohabitation Register and African-American Naming Practices


This visual representation of the names of the mothers found in the Henry Cohabitation Register illustrate the frequency of use by the size of the name.(Word images created using wordle.net)

The Library of Virginia has completed the digitization and transcription of the last of the cohabitation registers in its possession, the Henry County Cohabitation Register, 1866. Others have already been transcribed and are available in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory. For African-American genealogical researchers, the names contained herein provide priceless clues to retracing their ancestors. Cohabitation registers imparted legal legitimacy to African-American marriages and children. This was also the first time many of these individuals would appear in public record under their own names.

Naming under the practice of slavery was fraught with power dynamics. The enslavers often gave names to the enslaved. The amount of input the family of the child would have in his or her name varied, but journals of slave-holders indicate they specifically assigned names to slave children on a regular basis.[1] Newly enslaved Africans were often issued a new name by their captors, causing their identities to become yet another site of colonization. Naming was a powerful tool for enforcing cultural assimilation and denigrating African cultural identity.[2]

When viewed simply as data, the set of names used for slaves seems to have been larger and more varied than the set of names used for free people. Slave names tended to fit within five categories: diminutive versions of English names (Jim, Bess), place names … read more »

- Kaine Email Project @ LVA – Human Touch Edition



Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall, Governor Tim Kaine, and Chief of Staff Bill Leighty, 9/11 Fifth Anniversary Ceremony, Bell Tower, Capitol Square, 11 September 2006, Press Office, Office of Governor Tim Kaine.

This is the third 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).

Much of the Kaine email deals with public policy, legislation, and governing.  Issues such as the state budget, transportation legislation, and the governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address garner wide media attention.  But there other messages that focus on less publicized aspects of a governor’s administration:  life and death decisions, grief, and remembrance.    This week’s post focuses on, for me, some of the most powerful and moving email in the Kaine collection.

Tim Kaine opposes capital punishment.  But when he ran for governor in 2005, he promised, if elected, he would uphold the law.  Eleven executions took place during Kaine’s administration.  The decision to proceed with an execution was not easy for Kaine.  John Yancey Schmitt was executed on 9 November 2006.  This brief exchange that night between Sherrie Harrington, Kaine’s confidential assistant, and Larry Roberts, Counselor to the Governor, that evening conveys this. 


Voice Mail, 2006-06-05 22:58, LRoberts3.pst, Email Records from the Office of the Governor (Kaine: 2006-2010), Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Capital cases also took a toll on Larry Roberts.  A few days before the 10 June 2006 scheduled execution of Percy Lavar Walton, Marilyn Tavenner, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, reached out to Roberts.  There was some question … read more »

- Early Warwick Co. Records Added to Lost Records Digital Collection


Picture frame once containing a writ taken from the Warwick County courthouse by Union soldier George H. Sterling. The writ is believed to have been Simson vs. Hubbard, 1725. Inscribed on the frame back: This Writ was taken from Warwick Court House, Warwick Co. Virginia by Geo. H. Sterling.

Warwick County records that date from 1650 to 1840 have recently been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory. The types of records found in this addition include wills, deeds, court suits, estate records, jail reports, a docket book, a complete order book, and pages torn from order books. Many of these documents were removed from the Warwick County courthouse during the Civil War by Union soldiers as spoils of war. Over the course of the last century, they made their way back to Virginia.

A page from a 17th century order book, removed by John Hart of the 29th Massachusetts Regiment in 1862, ended up in the hands of LaRoy Sunderland of Boston, Massachusetts, who donated it to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The society discovered the torn order book page while in the process of moving to a new location in 1964 and returned it to Virginia. Other documents were returned to Virginia after being discovered amongst family papers. E. Russell Jones of Pennsylvania and Charles Fitchorn of Missouri both discovered Warwick County records taken during the Civil War among the belongings of their deceased relatives. In 1914, James P. Williams returned Warwick County records he received from a friend named Edward G. Wood whose grandfather was a collector of relics. In a letter … read more »

- “I told you I had no money & therefore could not pay you”


Ad placed by James Juhan in the 19 April 1787 issue of the VIRGINIA GAZETTE.

In 1771, James Juhan, musical instrument maker, arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, from Boston, Massachusetts. From 1771 to 1772 he advertised in the Charleston newspapers as a music teacher and repairer of musical instruments. Years later, having recently moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, he advertised in the 15 April 1786 issue of the Virginia Gazette, stating that he taught music, repaired instruments, and was a “Harpsichord and Forte Piano maker.”  He also advertised as a journeyman cabinetmaker or joiner (Virginia Gazette, 19 April 1786, 3-3). The following letters and accounts, found in the Henrico County judgments Southall vs. Juhan and Blodget & Eustis vs. Juhan, provide a unique description of Juhan’s Virginia career and provide further information on the history of music in this country, especially American-made organs.    

In 1786, Juhan rented a house “lying on a back street in Williamsburg” from James Southall.  When Juhan later left Williamsburg for a job opportunity in Petersburg, he departed without paying the rent he owed to Southall.  He attempted to satisfy the debt by offering Southall his piano forte and promising further payment from organ-building jobs in Petersburg and Richmond.  In a 20 April 1788 letter, Juhan told Southall “you’ll be pay’d Sooner So than in going to law Suit.” Unconvinced, Southall chose the lawsuit route, as documented in Southall vs. Juhan (Henrico County … read more »

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