Tag Archives: Genealogy

- The Women of Smithfield


Portrait of Susanna Smith Preston by Jeremiah Deus at Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Processing of the Montgomery County chancery began in August 2013, and one of the early finds was Chancery Cause 1848-016, Letitia Floyd vs. Executors of Elizabeth Madison, which involved two locally well-known Virginia families, the Prestons and Floyds.  While much of the history of these families revolves around the military, economic, and political exploits of the men, this particular suit reveals great politicking among the females as well. Additionally, this case permits researchers to evaluate changes in women’s economic and social status over several generations.

William Preston, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Virginia in 1737, moved to western Virginia and became a surveyor in Augusta and Botetourt Counties.  He fought in the French and Indian War, became an officer in the colonial militia, and eventually served in the House of Burgesses and as a sheriff and surveyor in Fincastle County. In 1775, he signed the Fincastle Resolutions and helped to recruit soldiers for the militia, ultimately serving as a colonel in the newly-created regiment mustered from Montgomery County.  Preston and his friend and fellow surveyor, John Floyd, (among others) advanced land claims for prominent Virginians by surveying tracts (legally and illegally) in Kentucky.

Numerous local and area histories celebrate adventurers and pioneers but few of these accounts consider the experiences of the women who carved out a home for their families in the … read more »

- Augusta Co. Chancery Reveals Pioneer Stories of Western Virginia


Letter to the editor of an unkwown newspaper written by a young lawyer requesting to write a weekly column on the history of Augusta County, Augusta County Chancery Cause 1842-042.

“In the time worn and musty old folios long since filed away in our public offices, there is many a fact recorded that has occured [sic] under the personal observation of no one now living; and which if placed within the reach of the public, would go farther to give us a knowledge of the manners, customs, and character of the pioneers of Augusta County than all the histories that have been written on our native state.”

These words were written by a young lawyer who was researching court records filed in the Augusta County courthouse in the early 1830’s. He was amazed by the amount of history found in the old court papers. He discovered stories about the first settlers of western Virginia and the many obstacles they encountered in their efforts to start a new life in an untamed wilderness. He read about events that happened during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. The young lawyer came across suits in which the litigants talked about their migration down the Shenandoah Valley from western Pennsylvania to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mesmerized by what he was reading, the young lawyer wanted to make his discoveries in the court records available to the public, and so, he wrote a letter to the editor of an unidentified newspaper requesting a weekly column in which he … read more »

- Who Do You Think You Are?

Dusty documents and grimy ledgers get a dose of Hollywood glamour as the third season of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? continues tonight, February 24, at 8 P.M. with Petersburg native Blair Underwood. The Event and In Treatment actor embarks on a personal journey of self-discovery as experts trace his family tree uncovering hidden stories and family secrets. During tonight’s episode, Underwood uncovers a branch of his family tree that shows a line of free African Americans in Virginia stretching back to the 1860s, and he even discovers that one ancestor was a slave owner. Underwood traveled here to the Library of Virginia, where part of the episode was filmed, to view the Campbell County Free Negro and Slave Records and the Amherst Free Negro Register.

If watching Blair Underwood uncover his roots inspires you to start researching your own family tree, the Library of Virginia is a great place to start. In addition to our collections that contain a wealth of Virginia records, we offer a guide on how to begin your genealogical research and one on the genealogical resources available here at the library. If you’re not in the mood to leave your couch, you can get started on your research tonight by tuning in to NBC WWBT channel 12 from 5:00 to 6:30. Library staff will be on air … read more »

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- Additional Prince Edward County Chancery Causes Added to CRI!

One of the county's historical markers. Image from hmdb.org and used courtesy of Craig Swain.

Additional Prince Edward County chancery causes are now available on the Chancery Records Index. These additions span the years 1754 through 1883. Combined with the previously released images for Prince Edward County, the locality’s chancery causes have been digitized for the years 1754 through 1913.

Chancery cases are especially useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions.  They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence; property lists, including slaves; lists of heirs; and vital statistics, along with many other records.  Some of the more common types of chancery causes involve divisions of the estate of a person who died intestate (without a will); divorces; settlements of dissolved business partnerships; and resolutions of land disputes.

Here are a few of the cases you will find in the newly updated Prince Edward County chancery collection. To see more suits, go to the EAD guide and choose “Selected Suits of Interest” on the menu at the left.

 1755-001- Bridget Braithwaite by etc. v. Edward Braithwaite.  The wife sued for separate maintenance. Her husband abandoned her and was cohabiting with Joanna Sinclair, “a woman of ill fame and reputation” in the same parish and county. Bridget Braithwaite and her small children “are … read more »

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- New Bedford County Database Available for Genealogists at LVA!

Apple Orchard Mountain, the highest point in Bedford County. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

There is a new database for researchers interested in Bedford County, Virginia. Filed as Accession 45528, the Donald E. Hill Collection: A genealogy database of over 80,000 families of Bedford County, is now available to researchers at The Library of Virginia. The database in RootsMagic4 is housed in the Manuscript Room and may be accessed by library patrons during regular hours of operation.

The long-time project of Mr. Hill, the database contains over 200,000 entries and includes birth, marriage, and death records when available, as well as a variety of relationships. The software allows searches by name and creates displays by pedigree, descendant lists, and/or immediate family group sheets. The user can shift between display formats and can pursue the ancestry by following red arrows indicating additional information.

It is also possible to create reports in numerous formats – Ahnentafel, Box Chart, Descendant list, Family Group Sheet, Individual summary, Narrative, Pedigree chart, Source list, and Wall Chart. These may be printed for a fee and some include an index.

We are excited to have this resource for Bedford County researchers. The compiler, Don Hill, is continuing to extract information from records and will periodically send updates to The Library of Virginia. They will be entered upon receipt and available to researchers.

We invite you to come by the library and try out this new database.… read more »

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- Who Do You Think You Are?

Emmitt Smith in the Mecklenburg County courthouse. Photo by Kent Eanes courtesy of NBC.

Genealogists, take a break from the microfilm machine and those dusty documents! Find a seat on the couch and get ready to see your passion brought to life on the small screen.

The second season of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? begins this Friday, February 4, at 8 P.M. As you may know, each episode of the show follows a celebrity whose family tree is researched by experts – how fabulous it is to be a celebrity! The celebrities discover their hidden family stories and secrets as they travel to the archives that house their family records and the places where their ancestors lived. One episode last season featured Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and revealed his family’s connection to Mecklenburg County, Virginia. See the episode here. Smith traveled to the county courthouse in Boydton to view records there and visited historic Boyd Tavern across the street.

This season promises more connections to Virginia with celebrity participants Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Vanessa Williams, and Ashley Judd.

If you are inspired to begin tracing your ancestry after watching the show, the Library of Virginia is a great place to start. Our collection contains a wealth of Virginia records that cannot be found anywhere else. We also provide free access to Ancestry.com … read more »

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- Local Editorial Contemplates Smyth County’s Cohabitation Register

(The following editorial is reprinted here courtesy of the Smyth County News & Messenger. It originally ran 28 July 2010.)

HUMBLING CHAPTER OF OUR STORY

In some ways it is difficult to read. Just the title “Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, State of Virginia, Cohabitating Together as Husband and Wife on 27 February, 1866″ speaks of discrimination so powerful that the institution of marriage between a man and woman was not recognized. As you read across the columns and come to “Last Owner,” the reality of slavery existing in Seven Mile Ford, Rich Valley, Marion and Rye Valley takes hold.

The names of those registered and their last owners resonate as familiar: Campbell, Carter, Fowler, Heath, James and Tate among many others.

As news of this register’s existence was announced this week, Circuit Court Clerk John Graham reflected, “When you see this document, you’re reminded that slavery was not just an institution somewhere in the South. It was a way of life right here in Smyth County. This remarkable document brings history home.”

Despite the challenges it presents us, this register is a national treasure of incalculable value.

Prior to this document recording and formalizing their marriages, which Virginia law didn’t recognize before the Civil War ended in 1865, the existence of many of these individuals had never been listed in a public read more »

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- Ripped From the Family Bible

The Smith family Bible pages used as an exhibit in a Rockingham County chancery cause.

When I found an unopened envelope labeled “Exhibit A” among the papers of a Rockingham County Chancery cause, I was curious to see what could be inside. Curiosity quickly turned to excitement when I opened the envelope to find a genealogical gem.

These tattered pages of a family Bible were used as an exhibit in Dorman L. Smith, etc. v. S. K. Wine, etc., 1903. It was a complicated land inheritance case made more difficult by the destruction of court records during the Civil War and three generations of Smith family land dealings.

Interestingly, the answer and depositions record an attempt by some war-weary residents of Rockingham County to settle in Bartow County, Georgia, around 1863. In 1901, Caroline Smith, of Lytle, Georgia, gave a deposition detailing the Smith family genealogy. She read from these pages during the deposition and later either gave or loaned them to the court to be used as an exhibit.

These pieces of the Smith family Bible have since remained as part of the court record. The Bible is dated 1722 and was printed in Edinburgh, Scotland, by James Watson, “Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.” The earliest entry records the birth of Abraham Smith on 29 December 1792.

The Rockingham County Chancery collection is housed in more than 530 Hollinger boxes and 14 oversize boxes. It spans … read more »

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- A Tree Grows In… Chancery!

When Mary Walker Cabell died in 1862, a series of chancery suits were filed in Nelson County by her numerous descendants in an attempt to settle her estate.  Such complicated cases could not be remedied by courts of law and were usually decided according to fairness by courts of equity, called chancery courts in Virginia.

In 1863 this hand-drawn family tree was entered into the case to note the lineage on Cabell’s father’s side.  Cabell was the paternal granddaughter of Charles Hill Carter (1733-1802) of Shirley Plantation.  Charles Hill Carter was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter (1663-1732) one of the richest men in 17th century colonial America.  His parents, John Carter and Elizabeth Hill, built Shirley Plantation in 1723.  The home, a private residence in Charles City County, remains in the family today.

This family tree serves as a reminder that chancery court cases are often invaluable to genealogical researchers because courts frequently sought to determine heirs and family connections. Though this example is of the powerful Carter family, most suits concerned ordinary Virginians and some even document the lineage of the enslaved.

This large chancery cause, Executor of Mary Walker Cabell, etc. vs. Peyton H. Skipwith, etc. & Representative of Charles Carter Lee, etc. vs. Executor of Mary Walker Cabell, etc., 1882, is part of the Nelson County Chancery Collection and … read more »

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- Solid Genealogical Gold

Harper's Weekly sent artists south to document life in the post-war southern states.

Genealogists researching enslaved African Americans face serious challenges. Records that exist for the free population do not exist for the enslaved since slaves were considered property and were prohibited from reading, writing, owning land, or even legally marrying. This is why Virginia’s few surviving cohabitation registers are so important.

The Library of Virginia recently conserved the Register of Colored Persons of Smyth County, Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866 at the request of John Graham, Smyth County Clerk of the Circuit Court. It is one of only twenty one cohabitation registers known to exist and is included in the Library’s cohabitation register digitization project.  This project aims to digitize, transcribe, and make available via the Virginia Memory website the images of all known Virginia cohabitation registers and the related registers of children whose parents had ceased to cohabit.

Prior to the Civil War, Virginia law provided no legal recognition for slave marriages.  What is certain and what documents like the cohabitation registers reveal is that slaves did marry and consider themselves to be married in spite of the lack of legal protection and recognition.  In 1865, Commissioner Oliver Otis Howard of the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau) directed the assistant commissioners of the states to order the county clerks to … read more »

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