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Tag Archives: circuit court records

- Grants Awarded to Circuit Courts for Records Preservation


Circuit Court Records Preservation program logo

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 26 July 2019 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. Five voting members comprise the board: three circuit court clerks, appointed by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the state archivist and a senior local records archivist. Board members meet once a year to evaluate applications. Clerks of the circuit courts are eligible to apply for funds to conserve, secure, and increase access to circuit court records. In all, 90 localities submitted 94 applications requesting a total of $1,441,194.21.

After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved 91 grant projects totaling over $1,200,000. Eighty-nine of the approved applications covered professional conservation treatment for items including deed books, will books, land tax books, marriage licenses, minute books, and plat books, housed in circuit court clerks’ offices, which suffered damage from use, age, pests, water, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining two grants funded records reformatting and a security system.

The following are a few of the items that received grant funding:

The Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division administers the CCRP. A $1.50 recordation fee on land instruments recorded in the circuit court clerks’ offices funds the program. The CCRP … read more »

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- A Greensville County Fixer Upper


Fowler, T. M. Birds eye view of Emporia, Virginia. Morrisville, Pa, 1907. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/75696640/.

Greensville County Chancery Cause Pierce R. Farley VS Benjamin D. Tiller, etc., 1886–007 tells the tale of a business deal gone sour. With echoes of the comedy film The Money Pit, which would follow a century later, this attempt at live-in renovations goes predictably badly.

The Cato House was a hotel located in Hicksford, Virginia, on the corner of Brunswick and Halifax Streets. It was an old building, even in 1882. The hotel contained eight rooms and was in bad condition. Stables and a lot of land extending along Brunswick Street, from Halifax Street to the Petersburg Railroad line, went along with the hotel property.

Benjamin D. Tiller, president of the Upshur Guano Company of Norfolk, owned the hotel and hoped to find a renter for it. After lengthy negotiations by letter and in person, Pierce R. Farley agreed to rent the hotel after Tiller showed him plans for the enlargement of the building, which would add twenty-four rooms and a second story. At the contract signing in January 1882, Mr. Tiller promised that he would complete the addition by 1 June 1883. Tiller also promised that the roof would remain on the existing building until the addition was completed.

In February 1882, after Farley moved into the Cato House with his wife and six children, six carpenters began framing the addition. Three bricklayers … read more »

- Our History as Told by the Pittsylvania County Court Records


Photographic view of the Pittsylvania County courthouse, State Route 57 & U. S. Route 29, Chatham, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

In the past few months, I have examined dozens of boxes of unprocessed Pittsylvania County court records dating back to the 1760s, searching for chancery causes for a future project. Most of the bundles appeared to have remained unopened since the day they were filed away over two centuries ago. Along the way, I discovered various documents that told the individual stories of people from different backgrounds that when brought together produced a integrated historical narrative of Pittsylvania County.

One box contained a bundle of declarations for Revolutionary War pensions filed in the Pittsylvania County Court. Declarations are narratives recorded by Revolutionary War veterans recounting their tours of duty fifty years earlier. One veteran named Lewis Ralph was 100-years-old at the time he filed his declaration in 1820. A native North Carolinian, Ralph enlisted in 1775 for a three-year term. He noted that he served “two years and a half a sargent [sic] under General Washington” and fought at the battles of Monmouth, Germantown, and Brandywine. He was discharged at West Point in 1778 and after the war moved to Pittsylvania County.

In a bundle of court papers dated 1811, I found the naturalization record of Alexander Brown. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Brown immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 in 1799. He initially resided in Petersburg where he worked as a … read more »

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- Adultery and Murder: A Bedford County Coroner’s Inquisition

On an August night in 1882, Adam Wilkerson returned to his Bedford County home to an unpleasant surprise. When he pushed the door open, he found his wife, Sally, in bed with Ben Quarles.

The following morning, neighbors Charlotte and William Hicks recounted what happened.   Charlotte said that Sally “called me this morning three times about day.” William heard someone holler and Charlotte said it was Sally. William then saw Adam who “told me he had killed Sally…he had found Ben Quarles in bed with his wife; Sally told Ben to kill him.” William described Adam as “not wearing any clothes but a striped shirt, and [he] had a bloody knife in his hand.” Wilkerson brought his children to the Hicks’s house and asked William to write a letter to his mother and father telling them to retrieve the children. William said, “He told me he was going on to Liberty to give himself up and to come on and go with him out there, but I did not go.”

According to the 3 September 1882 edition of the Daily Dispatch, Wilkerson, incorrectly identified as Abram, was “charged with the murder of his wife …tried in the County of Bedford…and sentenced for eighteen years, the extreme penalty of the law for murder in the second degree.”

The Coroner’s Inquisition, dated 3 August 1882, stated … read more »

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- “The Body of an Infant There and Then Laying Dead”: Infanticide in Coroner’s Inquisitions At The Library of Virginia





Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with
Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Kristen Green, an independent author whose previous work was Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, spent the year researching and writing The Devil’s Half-Acre.

A newborn girl smothered just after birth. A baby girl killed after being struck on the forehead and above the mouth with a brick. An infant boy strangled to death.

All three cases of infanticide were the subject of coroner’s inquisitions in Henrico County in the 1830s and 1840s– and in all three cases, the victims were born to enslaved women and therefore were also enslaved. Virginia law stipulated that the slave status of the babies followed that of their mothers.

When juries were assembled to investigate the three suspicious deaths, each one pointed the finger at the enslaved mother of the baby.

Perusing the Library’s digital collection of inquisitions from around the Commonwealth, I was drawn to these stories of dead babies and the enslaved women investigated for murdering them. Coroner’s inquisitions are county investigations into deaths that are violent, unnatural, or suspicious, and juries are assembled to determine how the person was killed and by whom. The inquisitions, which exist from 1789 to 1942 for Henrico … read more »

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- Virginia Untold: The Cullins family of Powhatan County


Original courtesy of Library of Congress.

Two years ago, the Library of Virginia launched Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, a digital collection aimed at helping researchers break through the “roadblock” that has long impeded African American genealogical and historical research. Virginia Untold, along with other digital collections already available at the Library of Virginia such as the Chancery Records Index Virginia Chronicleand the Legislative Petitions Digital Collection, have brought to light the pre-Civil War experiences of African Americans once hidden in bundles of administrative, estate, property, and court records stored in courthouses, state agencies, attics, basements, and libraries. One example is the narrative of an African American family who resided in Powhatan County in the mid-19th century.

In 1833, John Cullins’s last will and testament was recorded in Powhatan County court. One of the terms listed in the will was the emancipation of a family of enslaved people: a mother, Nancy, and her five daughters, Jane, Sally, Ann, Judith, and America. However, their emancipation was not immediate. Cullins’s will stipulated that the family would remain enslaved until the deaths of John’s two daughters, Polly and Henley. Following their deaths a decade later, Nancy and her daughters finally gained their long awaited freed … except for Jane, who died before receiving her emancipation.

Once emancipated, Nancy and her daughters acquired the surname of their … read more »

- The Courthouse Adventures of Morgan P. Robinson


Martinsville courthouse.

In 1915, Richmond native Morgan P. Robinson became the chief of the Archives Department at the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia); three years later he was appointed the first state archivist. Almost immediately he began surveying the city and county courthouses to determine the completeness of their holdings. During these examinations he also rated the environmental conditions at each facility and noted whatever other observations struck him. He was sometimes assisted in this endeavor by the clerks, who supplied him with inventories and other information about their records. Many times, however, he received field reports from Milnor Ljungstedt, a seasoned genealogist from New England who assisted him with his inspections. How Robinson and Ljungstedt began working together and what her official role was remains something of a mystery.

With dates ranging from 1915 to 1929, these courthouse surveys consist of a collection of files for each of the inspected Virginia localities which had surviving reports. Now housed at the Library of Virginia, the surveys vary in size and completeness from almost nothing to huge inventories and everything in between. A typical file contains a brief report by either Ljungstedt or Robinson and a few photographs to document the inspection. The reports were often scribbled on an envelope that presumably held the small photographs taken during the on-site visits.

Both Robinson and Ljungstedt … read more »

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- Court Records Preservation Pioneers: Martha Woodroof Hiden


Portrait of Martha Hiden, Courtesy of Newport News Public Library.

The naming of the local history and genealogy reading room at Newport News Public Library after Martha Woodroof Hiden is well deserved. Born in Orange County, Virginia, in 1883, Hiden graduated from Randolph-Macon College and went on to graduate school at the University of Chicago and The College of William & Mary. In 1909 she married Philip W. Hiden, who became the first mayor of Newport News, the city where she spent the rest of her life. She ran her husband’s business after his death in 1936, and went on to serve as a member of the board of visitors at William & Mary, an executive at the Virginia Historical Society, and a board member of the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia). An accomplished and scholarly researcher, she authored numerous reviews, articles, and books on Virginia history and genealogy.

With all those accomplishments, however, her work with Virginia city and county court records might be her most important achievement. More than most, she understood the historical significance of the records and their need to be preserved. Among her writing on Virginia history, she published essays on court records, outlining the importance of each of the “classes” or record groups, explaining their use and purpose as few had done before, and laying the groundwork for social historians of the future. In her aptly … read more »

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- Virginia Untold: Freedom Suits

This is the first in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.


Detail. Published by the American Anti-Slavery Society,

Enslaved African Americans in antebellum Virginia attempted to secure their freedom in many ways. The violent, armed uprisings led by Nat Turner and Gabriel loom large in historical memory, and the historical record is littered with stories of runaway slaves stealing off in the night to seek freedom with the help of the Underground Railroad. However, the narratives of enslaved individuals who used the law to secure their freedom are frequently missing from this dialogue. The Library of Virginia’s collection of freedom suits helps to illuminate these stories.

Enslaved Virginians could petition the court for their freedom “forma pauperis” based on a few different claims. Since free or enslaved status in antebellum Virginia was based on the status of the mother, petitioners often sued on the basis that they were born of a free woman. In many cases these suits involve individuals claiming descent from a Native American. After 1788, slaveholders who brought slaves to Virginia when resettling from another state were required to register their slaves with the county court and sign an oath stating that they had not brought them for the purpose of … read more »

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- Sometimes You DO Find a Needle in a Haystack: The Augusta Co. Cohabitation Register


Augusta County courthouse, ca. 1910.

Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the murky past to their enslaved ancestors.  The registers date from 1866 and provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and provide a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover.  Historians are also interested in the registers because of what the registers might say about a particular community of people at a time when great changes had come about as a result of the Civil War and the end of slavery.  Locating the complete Augusta County Cohabitation Register took persistence, determination and luck.  The concerted effort of the circuit court clerk’s office and the Library of Virginia’s Local Records staff working together solved this nearly 150 year old mystery.

In 2007 Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk John Davis informed LVA staff that four cohabitation sheets had been discovered in his office . Officially titled the Register of Colored Persons of Augusta County, Virginia, Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife on February 27th, 1866, a cohabitation register was the legal vehicle by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information about an individual person contained in the cohabitation register is literally priceless as it is often the first time … read more »