Vol. 3, # 3
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The original territory that was considered Virginia in colonial time, was enormous and eventually carved up to form parts of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and West Virginia. Early colonization of the area was encouraged through the use of headright grants which is described as a method of giving public land (fifty acres in Virginia) to anyone who paid his own way to the new colony. These individuals could earn additional lots of fifty acres for each additional individual for whom they paid passage.
Even though Virginia was one of the first states of the fledgling country and census enumerations were taken for the years 1790 and 1800, those records have been lost to researchers and only part of the 1810 census exists. This makes it necessary to turn attention to the census alternatives such as the Virginia tax lists from 1782 through 1785. Tax lists can contain a wealth of information that shouldn’t be overlooked. These colonial taxes included the tithables and quitrents which will be mentioned shortly. Note: Pre-1783 tax records have been published in Virginia Tax Records: from the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, The William and Mary College Quarterly, and Tyler’s Quarterly: with an index by Gary Parks.
Researching in Virginia court records has been compared to “running a maze” made up of county records, orphans’ courts, courts of claim, quarter courts, general courts, a supreme court of appeals, a high court of chancery, a superior court of chancery, district courts, circuit superior courts of law and chancery, and circuit courts. Some of these early courts overlapped while others replaced earlier courts. To get more information about the different courts and their jurisdictions, refer to A Preliminary Guide to Pre-1904 County Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library and Archives by Suzanne Smith Ray, et al., 1987 in the Heritage Room – H 016.9755 RAY.
Virginia began early registration of births and deaths , requiring the counties to begin keeping the records starting in 1853. This continued until 1896, though there is a gap during the Civil War, when most of the counties abandoned registration. Another gap in the records exist for the years from 1896 until statewide registration became required in 1912. A few independent cities kept births and deaths during the interim 16 years.
Pre-1853 marriages were done by posting a bond or by banns (an announcement or publication at three church meetings prior to the ceremony). Whereas bonds would be located in courthouse records, banns would be found in church records. Since 1853, state law has required the counties and independent cities to issue a marriage license. The application for marriage, which was formalized in 1858, asks for full names, ages, places of birth and residence, proposed marriage date and place, if divorced or widowed, parents’ names, groom’s occupation, and minister’s name. When the license was given to the state by the minister or other officiating individual, the clerk was required to enter the marriage in a marriage register. The Division of Vital Records has these marriage registers, which date from January 1853. The clerk of the county or city court has copies of all marriage records kept by that court. Many of these marriage records are also available and searchable online from the Library of Virginia website.
When researching colonial ancestors, records such as tithables lists and quitrent rolls help to establish at least the head of the household. Tithables were considered the closest thing to a head count. Those who were considered tithable changed over the years from originally including only every male above sixteen to eventually covering all males, nonwhite females, and wives of free nonwhite males. Quitrents, on the other hand, were annual rents paid to the crown or to the proprietor who had granted the individual the land.
Remember, also, Virginia has a number of independent cities. These cities have their own records even though they are located within a county. Before spending a large amount of time digging through county records, make sure the ancestor was not living in one of these cities.
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Fact: A Timeline of Colonial Virginia
1606 - The first Charter was granted to Virginia Colonists.
1607 - The London Company Colonists landed, and established Jamestown.
1607 - Capt. John Smith's company erected a cross on the islet near the Falls of the "Powhatton" River and changed its name to "James."
1607 - Landing made by Virginia Colonists at Cape Henry
1607 - The Virginia Colonists discovered the mouth of the Delaware River.
1607 - Arrival of the London Company Colonists with Capt. Christopher Newport in the James River, Virginia.
1607 - Capt. John Smith was sworn in as a member of the Jamestown Council.
1619 - The first General Assembly of Burgesses met in Virginia.
1621 - Virginia received its first written Constitution.
1676 - Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, under Nathaniel Bacon, against the Royal Government, in favor of self-government.
1682 - A Virginia Printer was forbidden to print anything until his majesty's pleasure in England should be known.
1753 - Washington received his first Commission from Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia.
Source: A Year Book of Colonial Times Compiled by the Rev. Frederick S. Sill, D.D. Member of the Society of Colonial Wars, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1899. Title is in the Public Domain and may be downloaded from Google Books in its entirety.
Tip: The Library of Virginia website has an online PDF file that is downloadable that gives an overview of the many genealogical records available in its holdings. Here are links for listings of historical societies and public libraries in Virginia.
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A Name Index to U.S. District Court Order Book, District of Indiana, 1817–1833 is now available online at the Indiana Historical Society website.
Millions of names from hundreds of rolls of microfilm containing German records are coming soon to the genealogy database website WorldVitalRecords.com, thanks to a new collaboration.
FamilySearch recently announced an inaugural project in concert with FamilyLink.com, Inc., to digitize and index a valuable German genealogy collection containing over 3.5 million names from the period of 1650-1875.
The barriers to finding ancestors with ties to slavery continue to be pushed aside. The latest example of bringing enslaved ancestors “out to light” can be found at the Lowcountry Africana website.
To quote from this data-rich site, it serves to “document the family and cultural heritage of African Americans in the historic rice-growing areas of South Carolina, Georgia and extreme northeastern Florida”.
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