The past few months have seen some great progress on our NHPRC grant for our Virginia Untold project so we thought we’d share a few updates via our normal monthly post.
Richmond City Husting Court Records
First, our social media followers may have seen via Twitter and Facebook that we accomplished a significant milestone by completing the examination of over 250 boxes of Richmond City Husting Court records. We went through each of these record boxes and extracted material related to free Black and enslaved people. Most of the records we identified are Commonwealth Causes, or criminal suits filed by the state government for crimes violating Virginia Acts of Assembly. Additionally, these boxes contained loose certificates of freedom, petitions filed by free Black individuals requesting permission to remain in Virginia, apprenticeship contracts, records of enslaved people who attempted escape, coroner’s inquisitions, and records of lunacy and disease in the city. We also identified a record type not previously processed for Virginia Untold: reports created by the city sergeant of free Black people in jail without registration papers, which we’re referring to for now as “Jail Reports.” We hope to put together a small exhibition showcasing some of these documents in 2023.
Our free register project is also making headway. In March, we shared our newly digitized set of 39 “Free Negro Registers” on our crowd-sourcing transcription platform, From the Page.
These registers are available for indexing, which is different from our typical transcription projects. After launching these materials, we soon realized that this makes a difference! So we’ve put together a tutorial and are continuing to promote these registers through transcribe-a-thons, conference presentations, and virtual events. In early September, we held a private transcribe-a-thon with history students from Utah State University. We focused on a particular register from Petersburg City, 1831-1839. Professor Mick Nicholls, who has conducted extensive research on free Black communities in Virginia, provided an introduction explaining the historic context and setting the stage for a productive hour and a half of indexing.
Utah State University students gathered on a Friday afternoon to virtually transcribe one of Petersburg City’s “Free Negro Registers” from Virginia Untold.
At the end of the month, I shared about our indexing project at the Library’s transcribe-a-versary, which was very well attended by both our veteran transcribers and new faces.
Lydia Neuroth (left) and Sonya Coleman (right) present at BPE 2022. We purposely structured a majority of time for discussion with the audience.
We were also fortunate enough to present on our free register project at the Best Practices Exchange (BPE)-Council of State Archivist (CoSA) (Un)Conference held at the Tennessee State Archives in Nashville, September 26-28. The conference brought together archivists from state repositories across the country to mix and mingle with practitioners in the digital realm to focus on the management and preservation of digital information. I teamed up with Sonya Coleman, Digital Engagement Coordinator, to showcase our work crowdsourcing the indexing of our registers. We received some helpful feedback, principally around data collection. Our audience was interested in where it’s going and how it’s being used.
All of these experiences have helped us refine how we explain and promote the indexing of these registers. There are many benefits to indexing this collection; there are also challenges. You can read more about our decision to set this up as an indexing project in our March blog post.
If you’re interested in helping us index, you can sign up for a free account on From the Page. Or maybe you have ideas that would further promote the completion of this project. We’ve considered holding individual transcribe workshops with genealogy or student groups in which we tackle a particular locality. What are your thoughts? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And lastly, our most exciting news: the new Virginia Untold website is almost complete! Our Digital Initiatives team has been working hard over the past year to migrate the digital content from Virginia Untold into our new repository, Rosetta. Many of the Virginia Untold record types are now available via the Digital Collections Discovery page. Soon, you will be able to search Virginia Untold materials from a focused catalog search that will allow you to narrow your inquiry by a variety of facets. This will include the original search features such as locality and record type, but also new terms such as date and “most recently added.” The website will also feature search tips, links to relevant research websites, information about how to get involved with our work, as well as updates on which localities we’re currently processing. We are really thankful to our DI team for how much work they have poured into making Virginia Untold more accessible and easy to navigate. We will be sure to share on our social media channels once the new website is live.
The scanning and digitizing of these records is made possible through a National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant. NHPRC provides advice and recommendations for the National Archives grants program. An announcement will be made when these records are added to the publicly-accessible digital Virginia Untold project.
Thank you so much for your hard work on this project. I have been waiting for the City of Richmond registries to be available and am delighted that they will be soon. I discovered that my ancestors came from Virginia (immigrated West during Reconstruction) and were free born earlier this year, but alas, none of their records are online because of where they lived. I am grateful to the library staff members and many project contributors that I will finally be able to add pieces to a long unsolved puzzle. Thanks again!