Wednesday 25 June 2014

Genealogy Resources at the Library of Virginia

The city of Richmond, Virginia, dates to the early 17th century and has been crucial to the development of the Colony of Virginia, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. It became the capital of the commonwealth in 1780. The city is situated on a high hill overlooking the falls of the James River.

"Richmond, from a hill above the waterworks" circa 1834
Engraved by W J Bennett from a painting by G Cooke
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Library of Virginia, located in Richmond, was founded by the Virginia General Assembly in 1823. It is now the library agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia and is the archival and reference library for the state. It houses what many believe to be the most comprehensive collection of materials about Virginia government, history and culture. According to Wikipedia, its research collection includes “808,500 bound volumes; 678,790 public documents; 410,330 mircoforms, including 46,684 reels of microfilmed newspapers; 308,900 photographs and other pictorial materials; 101.8 million manuscript items and records; and several hundred thousand prints, broadsides and newspapers.”

Library of Virginia courtesy of the library's website

I am fortunate; I live two hours north of Richmond and have been able to make several trips to the library. I found the Visitor’s Guide to be extremely helpful in planning my first visit to an unknown library. I also called ahead and received great assistance in optimizing my research agenda. 

If you cannot visit the library in person, don’t be alarmed. Much information is available online:
  • Find It Virginia is the free access to a collection of Virginia databases
  • Virginia Memory includes the library’s digital collections of newspapers, prints and photographs
  • Virginia Heritage – a guide to the library’s manuscripts and archival collections

I use the library mostly when doing newspaper research, but I have also found copies of old family wills that have been helpful in making relationship connections between ancestors, such as Sue Adams described in a recent post. If you have branches of your family tree that lived in Virginia,* I hope you will take time to discover the research resources available at the Library of Virginia. And don't forget to peek at the Chancery Court records. You'll find your Virginia ancestors were a litigious lot and the information in those records can provide a wealth of "color" about a person -- some even include descriptions of their character and not always in a good way.

I'm using #WWGenealogy when tweeting about this collaboration project on Twitter (@TweetTRnT).

* Don't forget Virginia was once a vast portion of what is now the United States;  records from that area that are now other states are sometimes found in the library.


  1. Great information. This is one of the libraries on my list to visit. I have quite a few Virginia colonial ancestors. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You will not be disappointed! It's a fabulous place.


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