I realized that I have mentioned a certain resource many times in the past, and while it ranks as one of the truly great GeneaGems, I had never included it in my list. I am rectifying that mistake now.
In 1995, the National Genealogical Society conference was held in San Diego, California. I have a distinct memory of one early morning session which I attended. The speaker was Barbara Vines Little and I guess she wanted to make sure her audience was awake that day.
She pounded her fist on the table and yelled “Virginia is the center of the universe!” Well, anyone who had been dozing off was no longer doing so.
Much has changed in the genealogy research world since 1995 when the internet was in its infancy and Virginia became ahead of its time with the online collections housed at The Library of Virginia, which is truly the center of today’s Virginia research universe.
First, I have to admit that the Library of Virginia has extensive holdings that are digitized and accessible online from home (at least if you are not a Virginia resident), but the staff added to the digital collections constantly through the years and continues to do so today.
A number of Reference Guides and Indexes have been created to help researchers understand and find materials in the various collections.
Each of the above categories opens extensive drop down menus revealing just how deep the library’s collections are.
I would encourage anyone with Virginia roots to spend some time exploring these finding aids that will help genealogists identify possible resources pertaining to their own family trees.
One category that I don’t see on the above page, and which may well be buried in one of the drop down menus, is the Guide to the Personal Papers Collections at the Library of Virginia. This book was published in 2008 and is currently out of print. A quick look online found it priced at a hefty $142.00. However, the library has in-house copies available to peruse.
Personal papers and manuscripts are a significantly under-used resource because most are not available online. Virginia has an extensive collection, so this guide is an important finding aid.
There is also a PDF online, Genealogical Records at the Library of Virginia, which is worth taking the time to review.
What Collections are Digitally Online at Library of Virginia?
The library has several projects accessible online on Virginia Memory, which is where its digital collections are housed.
First, there are several historical exhibitions, which are described as:
The Library of Virginia’s exhibition program offers physical, traveling, and virtual exhibitions that explore the commonwealth’s social and cultural history. . .
The current exhibition is WE DEMAND: Women’s Suffrage in Virginia.
However, most family history researchers will want to check out the MANY databases found under the Digital Collections tab, which are orgainzed in alphabetical order:
There are a number of digital databases that are directly relevant to genealogy research.
Here is a sampling of some of the databases available:
Cohabitation Registers – A cohabitation register, or as it is properly titled, Register of Colored Persons…cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, was the legal vehicle by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children.
Stereograph Collection – Old photos of Virginian people and places
Broadside Collection – Early Virginia news notices (single event notices, rather than an entire newspaper)
Electoral College Digital Collection – Virginia’s Electoral College results from 1789 onward
Last, but definitely not least, here is my favorite database, which I use often – the Virginia Chancery Records Index:
Chancery court is where, simply put, the court decided the fairness of situations. When a man died and left an estate that couldn’t easily be equitably divided among his heirs, the family went to Chancery Court for help.
Sometimes these court cases were simply a request for a court order to help, while other cases involved unhappy litigants, seeking redress from the court.
In both situations, a stream of paperwork was created that leaves valuable family information for us today.
I have found complete lists of heirs, both living and deceased, with their places of residence, members of the FAN club who gave depositions and stated relationships to the deceased person, AND I’ve even found copies of wills recorded in the lawsuit WHICH NO LONGER EXIST IN THE HOME COUNTY because the county courthouse burned!!!
Not all Virginia chancery court records have been digitized, but many are complete. The home page includes a box listing the current projects, which right now include Amelia, Giles and Princess Anne Counties:
It is very easy to search for Plaintiff, Defendant or Surname:
If you have an Index Number or Case Number, that can be entered and there are boxes to check for cases that mention free or enslaved persons.
If you have Virginia ancestral connections, I can’t recommend the Library of Virginia highly enough! For those of you who have no Virginia family ties, I am sure you will wish you did after visiting this website.