Hi, I’m Lydia, the new Project Manager for Virginia Untold. I’m using this blog post to introduce myself and my interest in this project. Going forward, I’ll provide updates on Virginia Untold and share stories I’ve discovered in the records.
Virginia Untold is a digital project that facilitates access to the Library’s pre-1865 records related to free and enslaved Black persons. The project began in 2013 funded through Dominion Resources and has since amassed thousands of digital images from LVA’s collections. In February 2020, the Library received a National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant from the National Archives to hire a project manager (me!) to oversee the next phase of work: digitizing “Registers of Free Negroes” from 19 localities in Virginia and processing records related to free and enslaved Black persons in the City of Richmond. Additionally, I’ll be spearheading outreach initiatives and developing new ways to reach researchers and other audiences with this content.
I am honored to be working on this project. It is a privilege to continue the great work stewarded by the many who have come before me.
I have a background in historic documentary research. After receiving my BA in History from UVA (Go Hoos!), I worked as a research associate at James Madison’s Montpelier identifying and researching the individuals who were enslaved by James Madison on his 2,700 acre property. Through this work, I was introduced to the stories of dozens of individuals: Raif and Caty, Mathew and Winney, Alec, Nicholas, and Abram to name only a few. I also worked with our oral historian, Zann Nelson, to identify living descendants of those who were enslaved at Montpelier and in Orange County. The individuals we interviewed shared experiences of discrimination and racism about which I had only read.
On Saturday, 19 June, LVA joined forces with the Virginia Museum of History and Culture (VMHC) to host a table at Henrico County’s Juneteenth celebration at Dorey Park. We shared information about library resources, including Virginia Untold, and connected with many individuals researching their family history.
They opened my eyes to the undeniable connection between the documented experiences of our historic past and the reality in which we live today. It was through this experience that I began to connect the dots between fighting against pervasive intolerance and uncovering untold truths from the archives.
This prompted me to pursue a Library Science degree at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS). I worked within the Southern Historical Collection, a true archival monument to white supremacy. Within the family papers of many prominent white families of the antebellum South are the stories of even more enslaved and free people of color trapped behind discriminatory archival structures. As a graduate student, I was challenged to identify barriers to access and develop a tutorial that taught users how to do archival research. It was both gratifying and overwhelming. The fight for historic Black lives is complex and requires work at many levels.
My degree in librarianship rooted me in a service model approach with a user focused vision. Access to historic collections is deeply intertwined with relationship building. I envision many opportunities for Virginia Untold to facilitate transformative experiences in the archives and beyond that help us to better understand ourselves and our shared identity. I want to start that endeavor by using this blog to expose the lived experiences of free and enslaved Black persons, stories of perseverance and heartbreak, loss and triumph.