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This past March marked the eight-year anniversary for my colleague, Tracy Harter, and myself in our positions as Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP) consulting archivists. The positions were created by State Archivist Greg Crawford (who was then the CCRP program manager), to assist the circuit court clerks with the preservation of their court records and, in a way, to serve as advocates for the records themselves. This form of advocacy meant ensuring that court records were not just conserved, but that they received the appropriate conservation treatment for their condition and were not “over treated” as had sometimes occurred in the past. Because Tracy and I were the first two to hold these field archivist positions, we were assured by Greg Crawford that we were not guinea pigs, but trailblazers! There was a lot to learn as we began traveling to circuit court clerk reading rooms across Virginia in June of 2016!

Since taking my position as a CCRP consulting archivist eight years ago, I have traveled on 275 separate occasions, to 68 county and city courthouses across the Commonwealth of Virginia. The localities that I visit span the bottom half of the state, stretching from Accomack County on the Eastern Shore all the way to Lee County in the southwest corner of the state (wedged in between Tennessee and Kentucky). During that time, I have spent 98 nights on the road, with the majority of my stays being in Abingdon (42 nights), followed by Salem (24 nights), Danville (14 nights), and then random overnight stays here and there.

It would take extra research to sort out which courthouses I have been to the most, but a brief scan of my courthouse visits spreadsheet shows Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, and York Counties, along with City of Williamsburg/James City County as high on my list, which should not be surprising given their proximity to Richmond and Williamsburg (where I live). Farther out, I have numerous visits to Appomattox, Carroll, Charlotte, Greensville, Henry, Scott, and Washington Counties, as well as the City of Bristol. Our visits usually involve inspecting items as potential candidates for CCRP item conservation grants, but could also involve records transfers, inventories, and consultations regarding environmental conditions and security issues. Although not as prevalent as in the past, we sometimes guide interns in the processing of records in circuit court clerks’ offices.

Reflecting on those first eight years at this moment in my Records Room Road Trips installment works out well, as I have not really gotten rolling with my summer cycle travel schedule. And, looking at my notes, it appears that this might well be one of my lightest travel schedules yet. Traveling comes in cycles or waves, depending on the backlog of the number of items that we have examined that have not yet been conserved and are still good candidates. Because I traveled a lot last year, there are an abundance of extra unconserved items in the queue for the upcoming grant cycle and as a result, I am not as pressed with travel this season. Where in the past I might have spent four or five full weeks with overnight travel, if nothing else changes, I will only need two weeks of overnights this season.

That said, I am slowly ramping up with day trips, but since my last installment I have only made four (!): to Charles City, Amelia, Buckingham, and Nottoway Counties.

Charles City

My visit to the office of Charles City County Circuit Court Clerk Victoria Washington was an extension of the visits I have made there over the course of the past few months. In September of last year, I had traveled there for a scheduled records transfer of a few older voter registers that the clerk had found with a bunch of other records that she had recently discovered. After learning of these records on that trip, I returned in April to create a detailed inventory and to identify any potential candidates for conservation. The new records were all volumes and easily doable as far as inventorying goes. It is an unfortunate fact that these surprise batches of newly found records usually do not contain anything earth-shattering that changes the course of history as we know it, and these records were no exception.

Inventoried records in the Charles City County circuit court clerk’s office archival storage area.

April 2, 2024.

They totaled 70 volumes, dating from 1848 to 1975, with the bulk towards the latter dates and very little particularly noteworthy in the bunch. Of the more interesting items, there was a Surveyor Appointment Book, 1859-1866, a single district of an 1859 land tax book, and a Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery Minute Book, 1848-1868. As far as potential candidates for conservation from this group, the surveyor appointment book and the minute book were in good condition, and a copy of the partial 1859 land tax book was already available in the records room (Land Book, 1856-1866). However, five other land tax books did turn up, covering the years 1906-1928, which filled a missing gap in the land tax books in the records room.

After the inventory, I rounded out the rest of my day examining items as potential candidates for CCRP conservation grants. Combining the five land books from the inventory with other good candidates in the records room, I wrote up condition reports for twelve items.


A few weeks later, I made another day trip to the office of Amelia County Circuit Court Clerk Marilyn Wilson. The clerk, who first was elected to office in 1993, had recently moved out of the historic, free-standing 1907 clerk’s office, and into a renovated former bank building across the street. The renovation had just been completed and the new clerk’s office had only been open for a week when I arrived. Amelia County is one of those easy localities where I already know what I will be examining when I walk in the door. In this instance, in addition to continuing with marriage records, which is an ongoing project with the clerk, the records room still has several cellulose acetate laminated volumes in need of treatment (or delamination). I had seen this movie before.

Marilyn Wilson has held the office of Amelia County circuit court clerk since she was elected in 1993.

April 17, 2024.

The only twist was that the marriage records had not yet been moved to the new facility, so I had to set up shop in the somewhat disheveled, nearly vacant old clerk’s office for their examination. After I wrote up condition reports for five batches of marriage records (1870-1886), I moved back to the new clerk’s office to examine and write up condition reports for five more cellulose acetate laminated volumes (two deed and three will books), for a total of ten items.


The next day trip for this RRRT installment was to the office of Buckingham County Circuit Court Clerk Justin Midkiff, this time to inventory some boxes of records in the basement storage area. Over the course of my past few visits, I had noticed a few boxes, some open, containing some older loose records. Buckingham County circuit court records were lost in an 1869 courthouse fire, however a simple perusal of an open box revealed bundles dating to 1869, thought to be the earliest available. Additionally, on one of my last visits I had noticed boxes in another area of the basement that also appeared to contain loose records. That is when things got complicated.

Local Records Processing Archivist Jen Taylor, sorting through loose records in the basement of the Buckingham County circuit court clerk’s office.

May 1, 2024

On this occasion, I was joined by Local Records Processing Archivist Jen Taylor, and we began sorting through the original boxes of records that brought us here. After getting a handle on those few boxes, I decided to look at the other boxes in the basement and found that they were also loaded with older records, mostly loose and many still in labeled bundles. Suddenly it became apparent that the detailed inventory that we had hoped to create was going to have to be at a more general, higher level. Compounding things was the fact that the records were not stored in record center or banker boxes, but in gigantic boxes that were obviously not made to hold so much loose material and so much weight.

Attempting to move the boxes around revealed the flimsy nature of their construction (in other words, they began to fall apart). These appear to be the types of boxes that are sometimes used by persons tasked with moving archival collections who have no experience with or interest in moving archival collections and use (or more probably, reuse) whatever sort of containers that happen to be laying around.

In the end, the inventory, excluding post-1912 records, listed 258 items, the bulk of which dated from 1869 to the 1920s. Jen and I were surprised to find a few pre-1869 items, including a few loose records, an 1856 clerk’s journal, and a folded/rolled-up 1859 land tax book that just happened to randomly contain a smaller folded/rolled-up 1834 land tax book. The inventoried records filled ten and a half of those oversized, non-archival boxes, plus there was one box full of volumes. The gigantic boxes were all painstakingly returned to their respective places before we departed.


The final day trip chronicled in this installment was to the office of Nottoway County Circuit Court Clerk Jane Brown. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (again), the clerk has been working on an ongoing project to conserve the marriage records, which again, takes a lot of the guesswork out of what to focus on. On my arrival, however, the clerk did mention that she wanted to have some of the older court records examined as potential candidates, so after writing up a nice chunk (seven batches) of loose marriage records (1899-1916), I began sorting through the roller shelving in the archival storage area looking for good candidates, identifying some that fit her criteria: four volumes, circa 1798-1836, all in fairly good condition and all in their original bindings.

One of the Nottoway County circuit court clerk’s office records rooms.

May 8, 2024.

The fact that they all had their original bindings and had not been rebound at some point made them good candidates for restoration. In this way, the conservators can work to retain and reuse as much of the original binding as possible and are, in a sense, rehabilitating the original court record book. Unfortunately, that was not the fate for many of Nottoway County’s original volumes which have been forever altered, either through lamination, loose leaf conversions, or simple rebinding. Additionally, many have had their pages detached (or guillotined) from their bindings so that they could be encapsulated, losing the aesthetic and historical authenticity of their original bindings. The planned restoration of these volumes will preserve their historical integrity. With these four restoration candidates, I walked out the door with eleven condition reports in my pocket.

That catches me up to now, but we better get this installment posted or I’ll have another visit to add!

Road Trip Roundup

Miles traveled: 398 (excluding our routine trips to Kofile Technologies in Greensboro, North Carolina).

Courthouses visited:
Amelia County Courthouse (Amelia, est. 1735)
Buckingham County Courthouse (Buckingham, est. 1761)
Charles City County Courthouse (Charles City, est. 1619)
Nottoway County Courthouse (Nottoway, est. 1788)

Oldest record viewed: Amelia County Deed Book No. 10, 1768-1769.

Soundtrack: Doobie Brothers, Molly Hatchet, and Tame Impala.

Best food: Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill (Williamsburg), DoG Street Pub (Williamsburg), and Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. (Greensboro).

Virginia landmark(s): Virginia Capital Trail and Sherwood Forest Plantation.

Eddie Woodward

Sr. Local Records Consulting Archivist

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