Last summer, the Westmoreland County Circuit Court Clerk Gwynne Chatham contacted the Library of Virginia concerning old marriage records that staff discovered in her office. After she read the title of one the records, it was clear that she had found the Westmoreland County Cohabitation Register. Ms. Chatham read the title of another group of records which proved to be the Westmoreland County Register of Children of Colored Persons. As former local records archivist Sarah Nerney pointed out in a previous Out of the Box entry about Augusta County cohabitation registers, these “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, which in the case of Augusta County dated from 1866, “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.”
The original Westmoreland County register pages were transferred to the Library of Virginia for conservation and scanning. A comparison of pictures taken before and after conservation reveals the improvements made to the time-damaged documents. Library of Virginia conservator Leslie Courtois dry cleaned the paper surfaces, flattened creases and crumpled edges, then repaired tears and losses with Japanese tissue and de-acidified the document. Both registers are now available digitally with searchable … read more »
The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) Grant Review Board met on 14 December 2015 at the Library of Virginia to consider records preservation grant requests from circuit courts across the commonwealth. The board is comprised of six members: four circuit court clerks, appointed annually by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, the State Archivist and the Deputy of Collections and Programs. The board meets twice a year to evaluate proposals. This cycle’s grant applications requested funds for processing, conserving, securing, and increasing access to circuit court records. A total of sixty-nine applications were submitted from sixty-one localities with requests reaching nearly one and a half million dollars. After careful evaluation and discussion of all applications, the board approved sixty-one grant projects totaling over $900 thousand. Sixty of the approved applications were for funding to perform professional conservation treatment, deemed a priority by the board members, on volumes housed in circuit court clerks’ offices that had been damaged by use, age, or previous non-professional repairs. The remaining grants were for security systems, storage cabinets, and reformatting projects.
The CCRP is a part of the Library of Virginia’s Government Records Division. Funded through $1.50 from the circuit court clerk’s recordation fee, the CCRP provides resources to help preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court … read more »
The conservation of the original pages of the Henry County Cohabitation Register has recently been completed. Previously, only a poorly and confusingly microfilmed version of this register was available for researchers and was the only option to be digitized for inclusion in the cohabitation register digitization project via Virginia Memory. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Vickie Stone Helmstutler, the Henry County Circuit Court clerk, the original register pages were located in the courthouse and sent to the Library for conservation. The conserved pages of the register were digitized and the digitized microfilm images have been replaced with images of the conserved original document. We hope that researchers find these images a great improvement over the others, which were dark and difficult to read.
A comparison of pictures taken before and after conservation reveals the improvements made to the damaged original document. Library of Virginia conservator Leslie Courtois dry cleaned the paper surfaces, humidified and flattened creases and crumpled edges, then repaired tears and losses with Japanese tissue and deacidified the document.
To get a better idea of what these conservation processes look like, please view the YouTube video made about conservation undertaken in 2011 on the cohabitation register from Montgomery County. The Henry County Cohabitation Register is now in a stable and preserved state which will allow this very valuable record to exist for … read more »
Individuals today wishing to conduct research using Rockingham County court records may encounter a few stumbling blocks. Due to two major events in the locality’s history, Rockingham County is identified as one of Virginia’s Lost Record localities. The first loss of Rockingham records occurred in 1787 when a courthouse fire destroyed primarily wills and estate records. A second and even more devastating loss came during the Civil War.
In June 1864, with the threat of Union troops advancing into the valley, concerned citizens of the county wanted court records (mostly volumes) removed from the courthouse so that the records could not be destroyed. A judge granted permission for these records to be moved to a safer place east of the Blue Ridge. A teamster and wagon were hired to remove the records, but the wagon was left on the Port Republic-Forge road after a rim was lost and a tire came off. During this delay, Union troops spied the wagon and partially destroyed the records by setting fire to it. The mother of a Confederate soldier extinguished the fire by carrying water and smothering the fire with green hay just cut from a nearby field. She retrieved what was left of the records and took them to her home for safekeeping. The records remained at her home for quite some time, and because … read more »
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 »
In the early 1980s, Mary Helen Gravitt went looking for a coffin. Gravitt, then a secretary at Virgilina Elementary School, was looking for a Halloween decoration in an old store building but stumbled upon a piece of Virgilina’s history. So began the strange turn of events that led to the town of Virgilina’s first town council minute book’s arrival at the Library of Virginia where it will be preserved, reformatted, and stored for posterity.
Recognizing the significance of Gravitt’s find, teacher Hallie T. Owen studied the book and published an article in the South Boston News and Record back in February 1983. Owen wrote in celebration of Virgilina’s 83rd birthday and described the town’s ordinances and regulations which ranged from the prohibition of playing marbles in town streets to allowing bar partitions that separated white and African American customers. Not knowing what to do with the volume but recognizing its importance, Mary Helen Gravitt held onto the book for the next thirty years.
At the chance request of a South Boston history buff, Owen’s 1983 article was reprinted in February of this year and spotted by the mother-in-law of one our archivists. Local Records director Carl Childs followed up on the article and with the help of Hallie Owen was able to track down the whereabouts of the minute book and persuade the … read more »
The Executive Papers of Governor Thomas Jefferson, 1779-1781, have been named one of Virginia’s top ten endangered artifacts by the Virginia Association of Museums. The letters and manuscripts documenting Jefferson’s service as the second governor of Virginia address the challenges he faced during the Revolutionary War, the drafting of the Articles of Confederation, the negotiation of the boundaries of Virginia and her neighbors, and the dangers of the frontier. The papers are currently undergoing conservation treatments thanks in part to a $110, 000 grant received from Save America’s Treasures. Watch as the video shows Leslie Courtois, Senior Conservator with Etherington Conservation Services, as she works to restore these valuable records in the Library of Virginia’s conservation labs. Thanks to Paige Neal for her script writing and narrating, to videographer Pierre Courtois, and to Audrey Johnson and Dale Neighbors of Special Collections for providing images. For more information on the collection and grant see the earlier blog post “Grant Allows Jefferson’s Papers to be Preserved.”… read more »
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.”
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 the … read more »
The first blog entry I wrote back in 2009 was about the shredded first pages of an old family Bible that were part of a Rockingham County Chancery Cause. The sense of wonder and excitement I felt when I opened the letter marked “Exhibit A” filled with those fragments and tucked away in the court papers was not an unusual experience. Hardly a week went by for me during my nearly six years here at the Library of Virginia when I didn’t feel that way at least once, twice, or three times.
Today I leave the Library of Virginia and, hopefully, leave our state’s historic records in a little better shape than when I first came through the door. Like the archivists who worked here before me and those who will come after me, we try to save the building blocks of history, organize and preserve them, and make sure that they are accessible not only to visiting scholars but also to the citizens of this state and those who live around this country with roots deep in the soil of the commonwealth’s history.
I once heard a career counselor say that a job is what you do and the things you are passionate about become hobbies. I have been fortunate enough to do for nearly six years what most people could never dream of – … read more »
In case you missed it, the Library of Virginia’s conservation of the gubernatorial papers of Thomas Jefferson was featured in Style Weekly. The letters and manuscripts documenting Jefferson’s service as the second governor of Virginia are being conserved thanks to a $110,000 grant from Save America’s Treasures. For more information on the collection and the grant see an earlier blog post about it here.… read more »