I very much enjoyed the Virginia Institute of Genealogy in Richmond Virginia this summer and feel the session on Virginia Vital Records was particularly important and informative. Here are some of the interesting and useful facts I learned from it.
In the early 1600's ministers were required to keep records of all burials, christenings, and marriages. By the mid-1600's persons wishing to be married by license had to go to the clerk of the county court. Marriage consents had to be filed for persons under the age of 21.
Beginning in 1780, ministers performing marriages had to record the marriage with the clerk of the county where the marriage was performed.
By 1853, birth and death records that were recorded at the county level also had to be sent to Richmond. In 1866, laws were passed to recognize slave births and marriages.
Knowing where to find vital records is extremely important in doing a genealogy search. Birth indexes from 1853 to 1896 are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia, but there is no statewide index to death records in Virginia from 1853 to 1896. Some county clerks prepared death records for their counties, and microfilm copies may be available at the Library of Virginia. There is a statewide death index for 1912 to 1954, and marriage index records are available at the Library of Virginia for the years between 1853 and 1940. For a fee, anyone can order a copy of a vital record from the Office of Vital Records. It has birth and death records from 1853 to 1896 and from June 1912 to the present, marriage records from 1853, and divorce records from 1918.
These are some published sources, available to the public, that are helpful in searching for ancestors:_
Virginia Vital Records (birth, marriage, and death) and Military Records, by Mary McCampbell Bell.
A Guide to Church Records in the Archives Branch Virginia State Library and Archives, by Jewell T. Clark and Elizabeth Terry Long, compilers.
A Guide to Bible Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library, by Lyndon H. Hart, III, compiler.
Marriage Records in the Virginia State Library: A Researcher's Guide, 2nd Ed. by John Vogt and T. William Kethley, Jr.
Gleanings from Other Institute Sessions
Anyone who does research in Virginia finds that maps in the late 1700's were not very good, but in 1820 a survey of the state was made which gave a fairly accurate account of Virginia counties. After the Civil War, there were lots of changes made on maps as the state recovered from war.
Virginia's coastline was accessible to entering ships, and Jamestown was the official port in colonial times. Williamsburg was the only town of any size and had its own newspaper, the Virginia Gazette ,. Waterways played an important role in the settlement of Virginia because, with roads close to impassable during the colonial period, families moved by water.
As people arrived in Virginia, they settled in areas where there were others of the same religion. Anglicans, who were members of the Church of England, settled in the Tidewater area. Every time a new county was formed, a new Anglican parish was established. The vestry-a group of twelve men who served a church parish and maintained its budget-was important for its local area. The vestry kept records to show who attended a parishes.
, and this information is important in searching for ancestors, as it may give information concerning marriages, baptisms, and deaths. The Huguenots and Presbyterians settled in the Piedmont area. In the Valley area there were diverse ethnic backgrounds with groups such as the German Reformed, who arrived in America between 1714 and 1745. When settlers came to Virginia, not everyone wanted to obey the British and join the Anglican Church. Instead, many wanted religious freedom.
In colonial times, tithables were collected and recorded by the church. After Virginia received independence from England, the counties took over collecting taxes. A marriage bond (license) was issued by the church, and minister returns (marriages performed by the minister) were sent to the county clerks to be recorded. Servants had to have the permission of their masters to marry; and while divorces were not common in colonial times, the first Virginia divorce was granted in 1803.
Lists of Virginia tithables and personal property from 1779 to 1787 were based on what 21-year-old males owned, but in 1788 the age for a taxable male became sixteen. This is important to know when looking at census and tax records. The constables were the ones who counted the taxes, and they did so fairly accurately during colonial times. Taxes were posted on the courthouse door or at the local tavern and were displayed publicly so that taxpayers could see that each had been equitably assessed.
In 1779 an act was passed by the state to establish a land system and then in 1782 a system of land taxes. People acquired land by buying it from someone, being given it by the government, inheriting it, or receiving it through marriage. A patent or grant is a document stating that land has been purchased and by whom.
By learning some of the early history of Virginia, I see how the state was settled. Looking in resource materials about Virginia, such as the Virginia Historical Index , by E.G. Swem, I can learn much about the people who settled in different areas of Virginia. Many libraries around the state have historical references in their genealogy or archival collections, and county information can be found at each county courthouse. Since records have been destroyed over the years, not all counties have adequate ones. Probate and land records, census and tax records, military and county records, birth, death, baptismal, and marriage records, wills and old newspapers-all are sources of important information about Virginia ancestors.
This wealth of family-history information will be invaluable as I assist others in discovering their family roots, using our library's genealogy resources.