Tag Archives: circuit court records

- History Restored: Free Negro Registers Conserved


Amelia County Free Negro Register, 1855-1865, with original boards. Volume also contains Freedmen's Marriage License Book, 1865-1869 (Barcode number 1138338).

While watching the February 2012 episode of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? featuring actor and Petersburg native Blair Underwood investigating his family history, Library of Virginia staff could not help but notice that one of the original volumes displayed on the show was not in great shape.  The Amherst County Register of Free Negroes, 1822-1864, was used on the show to prove that one of Underwood’s ancestors had been a free person prior to the Civil War.  The front and back covers of the volume had become detached from the spine, pages were loose, and overall it did not look like the book could withstand much handling without sustaining further damage to its fragile pages.  This led to a reevaluation of the existing conservation priority for the 30 free Negro registers in the Library’s holdings.  Previously it was thought that since all of the free Negro registers were microfilmed, the original volumes would not be handled by the public any longer, thus conservation money would be better spent on other items.  However, the resurgence of interest in African American genealogy, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and related issues, and interest in the registers for display in exhibits clearly indicated that a change was necessary.  A conservation inventory was done for all of the volumes and the ones that require treatment will … read more »

- Finding What Was Lost: The Lost Records Localities Digital Collection


Pulaski County courthouse on fire 29 December 1989.

The Lost Records Localities Digital Collection consists of copies of records from counties or incorporated cities that have suffered significant record loss due to intense military activity (predominantly during the Civil War), courthouse fires, theft, vandalism, water damage, pest damage, and/or natural disasters. Copies are made from surviving records such as wills and deeds found in the court records of other localities as part of chancery and other circuit court records processing projects. The “lost” documents are digitally scanned and the images and pertinent information are added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory.

The Lost Records Localities project has been an ongoing one for the Library of Virginia for decades. During the mid-1910’s, Virginia’s first state archivist Morgan P. Robinson sent a letter to all clerks inquiring about the state of the records in their courthouses.  Many responded saying the records were destroyed during the American Revolution, Civil War, courthouse fire, etc. The coming of the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program in the early 1990’s continued this project and enabled the hiring of additional archival staff to process circuit court records, mainly chancery causes. While processing chancery, archivists identify documents from localities that suffered loss of records–a Will of Matthew Koon, 1731, recorded in Stafford County and used as an exhibit in a Fauquier County chancery cause or … read more »

- Scott Co. Chancery Goes Digital!


Plat of Gate City, Scott County Chancery Cause Town of Gate City vs. Col. J. B. Richmond, 1897-057, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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 »

- All I Want For Christmas Is…


Cover of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, 12 December 1907. (Image used courtesy Library of Virginia Special Collections.)


Children mailing Santa Claus letters from the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce Collection, circa 1930s. (Image used courtesy Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

On 16 December 1895, 12-year-old Mamie M. Yates wrote a letter to Santa Claus. It read:

Dear Santa Claus,

I will write to you to tell you what I want you to bring me. I want a sled and Robinson Crusoe and a pair of nice gloves and some ribbon for my hair and a writing tablet and some candy, oranges, nuts, raisins, banannas [sic] and caramels and apples and a cap for my doll.

Your little girl,

Mamie M. Yates

The letter did not make it to the North Pole. It somehow ended up in the Lunenburg County courthouse filed in the clerk’s records and became part of the Lunenburg County (Va.) Clerk’s Records of John L. Yates, 1878-1934 circa (Barcode 1046171). John L. Yates, Mamie’s father, was the circuit court clerk for Lunenburg County at the time the letter was written. Although the letter did not reach its destination, I’m sure Santa had a good idea about what to bring Mamie for Christmas.

-Greg Crawford, Local Records Coordinator… read more »

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- “And the piano, it sounds like a carnival”


Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Co. Piano Catalog, H. W. Gray vs. Bettie L. Payne, 1884, Frederick County Circuit Court Ended Causes (Barcode 1141828).

In May of 1883, H. W. Gray, president of the Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Company, brought suit against Bettie L. Payne in the Frederick County Circuit Court for a debt of $500.  Bettie had purchased a piano from the company via one of its agents, William H. Manby.  After delivery, she refused to pay based on her belief that the piano was not of the quality that she had been promised.  She claimed to have purchased the Schomacker in part due to statements made in promotional materials about honors and prizes that the pianos had received at the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876—claims she now believed to be false and misleading.  In particular, she objected to the Schomacker being much inferior in tone and touch than she had been led to believe by the advertising. 

The Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Company was established in Philadelphia in 1838 by John Henry Schomacker of Vienna, Austria.  In 1855, he built a large piano factory at the corner of Catherine and Eleventh streets thanks in part to his success after his pianos won big prizes at various fairs and exhibitions in the United States.  The factory made upright, grand, and “square” grand pianos of high quality woods that were heavily carved in a Germanic style.  A big selling point was that the wires of the pianos were electroplated … read more »

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- CCRP Celebrates 20 Years!

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

*Updated 16 October 2012*
On 16 read more »

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- Spoils of War Return Home to Virginia



On Thursday, October 20, staff from the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch were in Jersey City, New Jersey, to formally accept one of the Commonwealth’s long-lost treasures – a Stafford County record book taken from Virginia in 1863 by a Union officer serving in a New York regiment. 

 The volume, an order book detailing the daily activities of the court from 1749 to 1755, was transcribed by a Stafford deputy clerk in 1791.  The book was removed from the Stafford courthouse by Captain W. A. Treadwell of the 4th N.Y. Regiment and was long considered to be a casualty of the war.  A note inside the front cover and presumably in Treadwell’s hand states that it was “Taken from Stafford Court House, March 30 1863.”


Stafford County Order Book, 1749-1755, taken from the Stafford courthouse by Capt. W. A. Treadwell in 1862.

 The volume was handed down several times over many years before it was presented to the Hudson County Historical Society. The Society’s collection eventually was transferred to the collection of the Jersey City Free Public Library’s New Jersey Room. Recognizing that the order book did not fit within the New Jersey Room’s collection policy, Jersey City Public Library’s John Beekman contacted the LVA to return the volume to its rightful home in Virginia.  The volume will be conserved at LVA’s in-house conservation lab and scanned and microfilmed to ensure its preservation. Scanned images will be presented to … read more »