Editor’s Note: On Sunday 4 February 2013, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page article on the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations. The Library of Virginia has case files for more than 250 individuals who were charged with various offenses during these protests. This blog post originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of The Delimiter, an in-house Library newsletter. This entry has been slightly edited.
In August 1999, the city of Danville’s Circuit Court Clerk approached Glenn Smith, Grants Administrator of the Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, with a dilemma. The city possessed a box of heavily used materials relating to the 1963 Danville civil rights demonstrations. Concerned about both the preservation and security of the collection due to high volume usage, the clerk agreed to have the material transferred to LVA for processing and organization so that it could be microfilmed. Though a local records collection, I was assigned the task of processing the material because of my past research on John W. Carter, a former Danville city councilman who aided the Commonwealth’s Attorney in prosecuting the civil rights demonstrators. I interviewed Carter for my thesis on the Virginia Conservative Party on several occasions. This was a segregationist third political party formed in 1965 to oppose Mills Godwin’s campaign for governor. Godwin had angered many by supporting Lyndon … read more »
The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the Scott County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, is pleased to announce that digitization of Scott County’s historic chancery causes is now complete. Both the index and images are available to researchers via the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site.
The Scott County chancery collection covers the years 1816 through 1942 (with digital images posted through 1912). The chancery, or equity cases, are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history. They often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that reveal detailed stories that help tell the story of Virginia. Cases contain useful biographical, genealogical, and historical information and document a broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free.
Chancery Cause 1873-034, Sampson S. Robinett vs. Samuel Babb, etc., helps document post-Civil War relations as it brings to light lingering bitterness between pro-Union and pro-Confederacy residents living together in Scott. In chancery cause 1897-057, Town of Gate City vs. Col. J. B. Richmond, the city attempted to stop a citizen from blocking what it considered a public road. A large map of Gate City was used as an exhibit. Chancery Cause 1901-058 reveals the religious beliefs of the members … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Lee County Chancery Causes, 1857-1912, are now available on the Chancery Records Index. 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, and legal history. The Lee County chancery collection offers a glimpse of life in Lee County during the 19th and early-20th centuries by documenting the African American experience, women’s history, Southern business and labor history, and the impact the railroad’s arrival had on a region. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.
Lee County chancery causes contain several suits illustrating the experiences of women in the westernmost part of the commonwealth. In Mary V. Pennington by etc. vs. M. C. Parsons, etc., 1887-019, Mary Pennington sought to gain control over land gifted to her by her father. The land was being sold by her husband, William Pennington, who had become “indebted and greatly embarrassed.” In 1907, Elizabeth Smith faced a similar dilemma. Elizabeth R. Smith vs. J. K. P. Legg, etc., 1907-045, protested the sale of Smith’s land sold for a set of blacksmith tools. Elizabeth Smith did not agree to the sale, but her husband, Samuel L. Smith, “commenced … read more »
The Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Part of the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services branch, the program was created in 1992 to address the preservation needs of some of the most important records in the state – the records of Virginia’s 120 circuit courts. The CCRP continues to not only preserve, digitize, and microfilm historic records from around the commonwealth but also to reach out to circuit court clerks in each locality, offering them consultative services and financial assistance through its grant program. Since its creation twenty years ago, the program has awarded over 1100 grants, totaling nearly $16 million, to Virginia circuit court clerks to help address the preservation needs of records stored in their localities.
Twenty years later, access to Virginia’s historic court records has never been wider with more than 7 million digital chancery court images from fifty-seven counties and cities now available online through the Chancery Records Index (CRI), created to increase access to Virginia’s historic equity cases. In celebration of this important milestone, we’ve created this video celebrating the twenty year history of this innovative program that has helped ensure the preservation and accessibility of records that are a treasure trove of state and local history.
-Bari Helms, Local Records Archivist
The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on May 25, 2011, at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from 46 circuit courts across the commonwealth. A total of 54 applications were submitted with requests totaling over $424,000. After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved 47 grant projects for $375,859.32.
The CCRP is a part of the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch. Funded through a $1.50 of the court clerk’s recordation fee, the CCRP provides resources to help preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court records. The program awards grants to the commonwealth’s circuit court clerks to help address the preservation needs of the records housed in their localities. Since 1992, the CCRP has awarded over 1100 preservation grants for more than $15 million dollars. For a full listing of awarded grants, please see the meeting minutes here.
The board is comprised of five members: three circuit court clerks, appointed annually by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association, and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the State Archivist and the Local Records Program Manager. The review board convenes regularly to evaluate grant applications to award grant funds for processing, conserving, securing, and increasing access to circuit court records. Clerk members of this year’s board were Judy
In 1996, Samuel Cooper, circuit court clerk of Accomack County, contacted the Library of Virginia about a large amount of county records he found in the attic of the clerk’s office. He requested assistance from LVA to determine their value, with the possibility of transferring them to LVA. A team of archivists travelled to Accomack County expecting to examine only a few boxes of old court papers. After climbing through the narrow opening of the office ceiling, they discovered a treasure trove of court records dating from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. Unfortunately, due to the poor environmental and storage conditions the records were in extremely fragile condition. Approximately 50 cubic feet of county records were transferred to the Library of Virginia where they were stabilized.
During the course of several years we examined these records to determine what they were and whether they could be recovered through conservation. The examination revealed that the records were primarily wills, deeds, fiduciary records, judgments, and chancery suits dated from the colonial era of Accomack County. Regrettably, the vast majority of these records are unsalvageable. Victims of heat, humidity, and insects, they can never be recovered. (images above) Fortunately we were able to identify a few gems that could be restored. They include tobacco plant censuses, 1728-1729, tithable lists, 1738-1769, and oaths of allegiance… read more »
Local Records archivists recently travelled to the Middlesex County Circuit Court Clerk’s office to transfer their pre-1913 chancery causes to the Library of Virginia as well as identify a large number of volumes stored in a small room separate from the main records room. While one group pulled the boxes of chancery causes, another group conducted an inventory of the volumes. They identified permanent records such as court minute books, bond books, business records, election records, and fiduciary records that dated from the 1790s to mid-1900s.
The archivists also located two boxes of early 1800s chancery causes that had been pulled from their original drawers in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of its inventorying of courthouses. This was a significant discovery given that much of Middlesex County’s loose records were destroyed during the Civil War. They were transferred to LVA along with the aforementioned pre-1913 chancery causes to be processed and indexed. Budget permitting, they will be digitally scanned and the images will be added to the Middlesex County chancery presently found in the Chancery Records Index.
The archivists also identified records that are nonpermanent, mainly printed material, of which the circuit court clerk can dispose. Moreover, the archivists identified volumes in need of conservation treatment including the county’s Free Negro Register, a record of great historical importance to African American … read more »
Virginia’s historic records have always existed under the threat of floods, hurricanes, fire, and war. Sometimes the records were saved. Sometimes they were lost.
When the Botetourt County courthouse was gutted by a fire on 15 December 1970 no one at the time could foresee that such a horrible loss would spur the creation of legislation five years later that created a uniform system for records management in Virginia. The Virginia Public Records Act, passed in 1975, set in motion an effort not only to manage all the state’s records but also to preserve and copy vital historic records contained in local courthouses.
Preservation and duplication efforts continue today with The Library of Virginia’s (LVA) records managers and archivists. The Circuit Court Records Program (CCRP), which began in 1991, continues to not only preserve, digitize, and microfilm historic records from around the state but also to reach out to circuit court clerks in each locality, offering them professional support and financial assistance in the form of grants. To date, the CCRP has funded nearly 1,000 projects worth more than $15 million to preserve records in the circuit court clerks’ offices. Nineteen years later, access to Virginia’s historic records has never been wider with more than 5 million chancery court images now available online. Clerks also have the option of sending historic record collections to the … read more »
Library of Virginia (LVA) staff, partners, and dignitaries gathered at the Goochland County courthouse Thursday to celebrate a milestone in a project that aims to put Virginia’s historic chancery court documents online.
The Goochland County Chancery Causes include the five millionth chancery image scanned by the Library of Virginia’s innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program. The records are the latest local records to be processed, indexed and digitally reformatted. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate what we’ve accomplished as a team,” said Carl Childs, Local Records Services Director. “It really is a team effort. It takes many different areas of the LVA working closely with the staff at the courthouses to complete these projects.”
The chancery digitization project began in 2005 with a pilot program in Fauquier County and now includes collections from 47 Virginia localities. Each of Virginia’s circuit courts created chancery records that contain considerable historical and genealogical information. Because these records rely so heavily on testimony from witnesses, they offer a unique glimpse into the lives of Virginians from the early 18th century to the eve of the First World War. A broad spectrum of citizens—rich and poor, black and white, slave and free—appear in the records. Chancery cases are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding local history. They show the … read more »