Tag Archives: Genealogy

- 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. 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 – a major sponsor of … 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.)


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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