As one of two CCRP consulting archivists, we alternate writing blog posts about our respective travel. This installment begins where my last one ended: early summer travels. For me, this meant trips in two different directions: north to Prince William County and Fairfax County, then west to Alleghany County and Rockbridge County. Both involved overnight stays, intriguing records, and quaint towns! Plus, my cell phone photo count reached a milestone: over 10,000 photos taken. I have used one particular cell phone to take photos documenting the condition of items in localities since I was hired in April 2016. After each locality visit, or after a few back-to-back visits, I typically upload those photos to our network drive and then delete them from the cell phone, which still continues the image count. I realized during an examination of Rockbridge County Deed Book 69 1890-1892, that I had reached photo number 9,999, after which the image counter reverted back to 0001, and is still going strong. That’s a significant feat for an arguably almost obsolete workhorse!
Prince William County
My travel began with a familiar drive north on I-95 and then northwest to the records room of Prince William County circuit court clerk Jacqueline Smith. The most exciting part of the visit was to deliver two historic volumes which had been housed at the Library of Virginia for decades, and recently had been conserved. Shortly thereafter, State Archivist Greg Crawford wrote a blog highlighting the particular significance of the return of the locality’s oldest deed book to the circuit court. I spent the majority of the visit, however, in a secure area where historic volumes and records were stored, where I examined about a dozen items in a four hour period, including minute books, order books, and will books dating from the mid-1700s to early 1900s which were either cellulose acetate laminated or otherwise in significant disrepair warranting potential item conservation.
However, when examining volumes, I simply can’t help skimming through the content, both to get a sense of the type of content found in various volumes, and also because some entries are so compelling. Minute Book 1752-1753, for example, contained an entry of the sort I see quite frequently in many localities during that era, relating to unwed, pregnant women: on Feb 26, 1753, the court determined that Jane Kelley was guilty of having a “base born” child, and was to be whipped 25 lashes at the public whipping post for that offense.
“Jane Kelley being brought before the court for having a base born child and being askt how of the offence above to her imposed she would acquit herself, says she thereof is Guilty and Submits herself to the grace and mercy of the court. Therefore it is Ordered that the Sheriff take her to the Whipping post and give her twenty five Lashes according to Law and then the said Jane to go…”
Also compelling among the pages of two 19th century minute books were several references to various free people of color certifying their free registrations. Prince William County is one of a number of localities for which no distinct Free Negro Register volume has yet been discovered, nor known to have existed. In these instances, references to free registrations are not easy to locate. However, it is not uncommon for the clerk to have recorded these in other volumes already in use at the time, such as minute books. Thus, several entries in Minute Book 1839-1843 contained references to named individuals certifying their registrations, as for example on p.22 dated Sept. 2, 1839: “Ordered that it be certified that the Register No. 360 of Aryanna Cole is truly made.” Upon returning to the Library, I searched Virginia Untold for any existing Free Negro Registrations that referenced Prince William County, and there were only two, one of which was for Maria Cole: registration #399, dated 11/6/1837 for Maria Cole, who had relocated to Henrico County from Prince William County. I imagine that Maria Cole and Aryanna Cole might have been related, but that is research for another day…
I drove from the Prince William courthouse in Manassas to Fairfax to spend the night, and visited the Fairfax Circuit Court Historic Records Center the next day, where I met with Assistant Archivist Georgia Brown. The Historic Records Center is housed in the offices adjoining the historic 1799 Fairfax County Courthouse, and is accessed from an entrance behind the building. Tattered 1880s-1900s land tax books were a high priority this visit because, as in most courthouse records rooms around the Commonwealth, they have typically have been some of the most used records.
Although various loose marriage records, such as bonds, certificates, licenses, and consents often are housed at the localities, the organization and storage of these different document types vary widely. Consents and other supporting documentation may sometimes be trifolded within a certificate or license, or trifolded and filed separately. In Fairfax County, two volumes of marriage license books covering 1867 through 1928 recorded marriages performed, and also included several consents, affidavits, and even out-of-state divorce decrees, which were either pasted into the volume or inserted loosely between pages or at the end of the volume.
Several pages of the volume are detached and surface soiled, so they will likely be deacidified, encapsulated, and post-bound. However, the additional documents are part of the historical record, within that volume. Glued items should be removed if they obscure text, and encapsulated where found. If consents or other items appear to be randomly inserted, the archivist may likely determine the arrangement, by date or name, and they could be treated and encapsulated at the beginning or end of volume.
While printed, published maps are not typical item conservation grant candidates, there are some exceptions. An 1879 printed Atlas of Fairfax County is frequently used there, and its condition is unusual. It is appears to have been bound as a volume by using two copies of the published volume and assembling it such that pages are adhered and sandwiched to a linen backing, and sewn as folios to bound linen tabs.
After a few weeks’ hiatus, I hit the road again in late June and headed west toward the Virginia state line, visiting the records room of Alleghany County circuit court clerk Debra Byer in Covington. Unlike in most localities, marriage records here have been sorted into folders, arranged and indexed by page and line number, but accessibility, long-term preservation, and security of the originals has been an ongoing conservation and reformatting priority for the last few grant cycles. While the originals will be mended where necessary, deacidified, scanned, and then housed in archival polyester sleeves, they will also be made available electronically through their records management system. The locality has typically stored consents and other materials with the license, so they will continue to be housed in that manner. Notice in a few of the images shown here that some fathers of potential brides were notified that their daughters sought to marry, and the brief but heartfelt letters from these fathers indicate that they may not have seen their daughters for some time, nor even to have met their potential husbands.
Bedford City, Va., July 3rd 1891
My Dear Daughter
I received a letter from a man by the name of Jackson for a certificate to get a license to marry you. You being of age it requires no certificate from me. You must be the judge as to whether you ought to marry him or not. I hope he is a clever man and that you will get along well in the world together.
All of our family are well. We hope to see you soon. I have a good crop of corn and tobacco and we are doing very well.
Mr. E.P. Clarke Negro Foot, Va.
My Dear Sir, March 9th 1892
I received your letter in reguards [sic] your marriage to my daughter Annie, my wife being away did not answer immediately. In reply to your request (I) will say, If she has given you her hand & heart, why I will not object and hope you both a long & happy life. Wishing to meet you in the near future, I remain yours [sic] most sincere friend
I then left Covington and headed east toward Lexington, which is one of my favorite places to stay overnight, as the town, the campuses of Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, and the Woods Creek Trail that runs through the area, each provide some of my favorite early morning running routes. The next morning, I walked to the Rockbridge Circuit Court building from the hotel, and met with deputy clerk Brenda Anderson, as circuit court clerk Michelle Trout was in court that day. The beauty of being familiar with a courthouse, clerk, and staff allows for the clerk to be confident that I can examine items and refer to the deputy when needed. This flexibility is helpful for everyone!
Rockbridge County dates from 1778, and the secure storage area near the records room contains a variety of marriage records volumes as well as land tax books and property books dating from that time. As mentioned earlier, land tax books are important item conservation grant candidates. In many cases, so are “property books,” also referred to as personal property books, or property and tithable books, depending on contents. I examined several land tax books in the main records room that were good item conservation candidates, and then turned my attention to early property books containing tithables as well.
Tithables were colonial taxes levied on a person by the General Assembly, typically on free white males, enslaved people, and Indigenous servants age 16 or over. Tithables remained a taxable category after 1782, with the establishment of the personal property tax. Rockbridge County’s 1800s property books are in varying degrees of disrepair, and are particularly rich in content because they contain both personal property and tithables. These volumes were compiled by various geographic districts, many of which were bound together as volumes decades ago and have suffered water and/or mold damage, crumpling, brittle pages, and many chipped edges and torn pages.
Eddie Woodward will update his summer travel in the next post, and you will hear more about my summer wrap-up beyond that. There are still a number of records room road trips to make!
Miles traveled: about 450 miles
- 5/9 Prince William County (Manassas, est. 1730)
- 5/10 Fairfax County (Fairfax, est.1742)
- 6/27 Alleghany County (Covington, est. 1822)
- 6/28 Rockbridge County (Lexington, est. 1778)
Oldest record viewed: Prince William County: Minute Book 1752-1753; Executions 1752-1754
Soundtrack: My usual: WNRN—independent music station
Best food: The Palms Restaurant (Lexington); Pronto Caffe & Gelateriae (Lexington)
Virginia landmark: Lot One (Lexington) A marker and detailed stone “map” on the corner of South Main Street and West Nelson Street documents the original county seat of the newly established Rockbridge County.