The Virginia Historical Society is pleased to have you use our genealogical resources.
It should be noted, however, that the principal center for genealogical research in
the Library of Virginia, 800 East Broad Street,
Richmond. County records
(including wills, deeds, and marriage bonds),
military service records, church records, Land Office records (patents and grants),
and tax records are located there.
The Library of Virginia also has census records
and large collections of genealogical
notes and charts. Nevertheless,
the VHS does have numerous materials helpful to genealogists, such as genealogical
notes and charts, family papers,
Bible records, county histories, and census records. It should be noted that most of our collections have not been digitized and thus are not available for viewing online. Please note that we have closed
stacks. This means that researchers
must fill out call slips in order to request and examine materials from the library
collections. More information about library procedures
The VHS now has a subscription to the genealogical database, ancestry.com. Thanks to the National Society Daughters of Colonial Wars visitors to the VHS library will now have the opportunity to use ancestry.com. Find out more on ancestry.com.
Virginia Historical Index (Swem's Index)
Index to several publications in the VHS collections, including the following:
Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine 1919–1929
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, v. 1–38, 1893–1930
William and Mary Quarterly, series I and II, 1892–1930
The VHS has indexes to all Virginia census records from 1810 through
1920. The census records are on microfilm. The 1790, 1800, and 1890 records were destroyed by fire;
however there is a list of taxpayers for 1787 (Ref. HA 683 C81 v.1–3). Other substitute census records include:
(Ref. HA 682 E3) and Virginia in 1740: A Reconstructed Census
(Ref. HA 683 T11 1740). The only
Virginia census of the seventeenth century was taken in 1624/5. It is published in
Adventurers of Purse and Person
Virginia 1607–1624/5 (Ref. F229 J4 1987) and names 1,218 persons who were living
in Virginia at that time; it
also lists four generations of descendants of those settlers.
The records of the Virginia Land Office, which oversaw land transactions in colonial-era Virginia, are located at the
Library of Virginia. That institution has now made many of those records available online, a description of which can be found on their web site by following this link: http://www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/land
During most of the seventeenth century and until approximately 1715, the "headright" system was the common method of obtaining land in Virginia. Each individual who paid the transportation costs of an emigrant received fifty acres of land. The term "headright" refers both to the imported person and the claim. Headright lists constitute almost the only record of
early emigration to Virginia. (The patent was not necessarily issued the year the immigrant arrived.)
The headright system was not used in the Northern Neck (the area lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers).
Beginning in 1690, land grants in the Northern Neck were issued by agents and were maintained separately. The abstracts of land grants from 1690 to 1692 are published in the supplement to Cavaliers and Pioneers. Some important published sources based on these records, and available in the reading room of the Virginia Historical Society, are:
Nugent, Nell Marion. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623–1782. 8 vols and supplement (vols. 4–8 published by the Virginia Genealogical Society, Dennis Hudgins ed.) (Ref. F225 N841)
Gray, Gertrude. Virginia Northern Neck Grants, 1692–1862. 4 vols. (Ref. F225
Ship Passenger Lists and Immigration Lists
Before 1820, the arrival of immigrants was not documented. Very few authentic
records of passenger arrivals in
Virginia exist. The list of headrights mentioned above constitutes a record of
immigrants but does not give the date or place
of origin or arrival or the name of the ship. Not all headrights were immigrants,
and some arrived long before the patentee
entered the claim for the land.
Coldham, Peter. The Complete Book of Emigrants. 4 vols. (Ref. E 187.5 C7). These four volumes covering 1607–1776 contain virtually every reference to English emigrants of the colonial period that can be found in England.
They identify only 100,000 emigrants, a small fraction of the total number.
Coldham, Peter. The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614–1775 (Ref. E
187.5 C6 1988). Lists names of approximately 50,000 Englishmen who were sentenced by legal process
to be transported to the American colonies between 1614 and 1775.
Coldham, Peter. More Emigrants in Bondage, 1614–1775 (Ref. E 187.5 C61 2002). Lists 9,000 additions and amendments to the earlier work, compiling names of Englishmen sentenced to be transported to the American colonies.
The Virginia Historical Society has a variety of materials related to military history, but we do not have copies of the service records of individuals, often called "compiled service records." The National Archives holds extant compiled service records for all wars in which the United States has fought. The Library of Virginia has microfilm copies of the compiled service records for Virginians in Confederate forces during the Civil War. The following published materials, available in our reading room, include registers of Virginians who served in wars.
Bockstruck, Lloyd D. Virginia's Colonial Soldiers.
Baltimore, 1988. (Ref. E197 B67 )
Abercrombie, Janice. Virginia Publick Claims.
(The Virginia Revolutionary War Public Service Claims Court Booklets) ( Ref. E255 A48).
These booklets, arranged by name of county, contain names of Virginians who requested
supplies and services furnished to the army chiefly during the years 1779–1781. Not
everyone who supplied
articles to the armies is listed in the surviving records, and not everyone who
supplied articles to the armies did
so willingly. See also Index to the Virginia Revolutionary Public Claims County
Booklets (Ref. E255 A49 1992)
Brumbaugh, Gaius M. Revolutionary War Records. Vol. 1, Virginia.
Washington, D.C., 1936 ( Ref. E263 V8 B8)
Burgess, Louis A. Virginia Soldiers of 1776. (3 vols.) Richmond, 1927–29.
Contains information on
bounty land. ( Ref. E263 V8 B9)
Dorman, John F. Virginia Revolutionary Pension Applications, Abstracted
(51 volumes to date covering A–Har) (Ref. E206 D85)
Index vols. 1–51. 4 vols. (E206 D85 Index).
Eckenrode, H. J., ed. Virginia Soldiers of the American Revolution (and
supplement). Richmond, 1989 (Ref. E263 V8 E232 1989 v. 1–2 )
Gwathmey, John H. Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution.
Richmond, 1938 (Ref. E263 V8 G9)
Hopkins, William L. Virginia Revolutionary War Land Grant Claims, 1783–1850
(Rejected). Richmond, 1988. (Ref. E263.8 V8 H77)
McAllister, J. T. Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary War. Bowie, Md., 1989.
Almost no records have survived for those men who served in county militia units.
contains names of officers of some county militia units and some Virginia militia
pensioners. (Ref. E263 V8 M1 1989)
National Genealogical Society. Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications
in the National Archives. Washington, D.C., 1976 (Ref. CS42 N44 no.40)
Pierce, A. T. Selected Final Pension Payment Vouchers, 1818–1864. Virginia.
Athens, Ga., 1996. (Ref. E255 P61 1996)
Sanchez-Saavedra, E. M. A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American
Richmond, 1978. Lists regiments and companies and a brief history of each unit. Deals
with the Virginia Continental Infantry
and Militia, Virginia State Line, Va. Militia, etc.; not a register (Ref. E263 V8 S25)
Wardell, Patrick G. Virginia/West Virginia Genealogical Data from Revolutionary
War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Records
(6 volumes) Bowie, Md., Heritage Books, 1988–1998 (Ref. E263 V8 W21) Genealogical
data extracted from Revolutionary War pension
records at the National Archives.
War of 1812
Butler, Stuart Lee. A Guide to Virginia Militia Units in the War of 1812.
Athens, Ga., 2011.
Contains information about units; not a roster (Ref. E359.3 V8 B971 2011)
Butler, Stuart Lee. Virginia Soldiers in the United States Army, 1800–1815.
Athens, Ga., 1986 (Ref. E359.5 V8 B97)
Muster Rolls of the Virginia Militia in the War of 1812 . . . Richmond,
1852 (Ref.E359.5 V8 V82)
Pay Rolls of Militia Entitled to Land Bounty Under the Act of Congress of
September 28, 1850. Richmond, 1851 (Ref. E359.5 V8 V8)
Wardell, Patrick G. War of 1812: Virginia Bounty Land and Pension Applicants.
Bowie, Md., 1987 (Ref. E359.5 V8 W21)
Johnson, William Page. Off to War, the Virginia Volunteers in the War with Mexico, or Fuera de Guerra, la Virginia
Volentarios en la Guerra con Mexico. Westminster, Md., 2002 (Ref. E409.5 V8 J71 2002)
White, Virgil D. Index to Mexican War Pension Files. Waynesboro, Tenn., 1989 (Ref E409.4 W589 1989)
Service records are at the National Archives.
A card index of Virginia Mexican War soldiers is at the
Library of Virginia.
Roster of Confederate Soldiers 1861–1865. Wilmington, N.C., 1995–6.
(16 vols.) (Ref. E548 R83 1995) Cumulative index to
compiled military service records of all Confederate soldiers based on the records
at the National Archives. The Roster lists only the name and unit in which the soldier served.
Microfilm copies of military service records for Virginians who fought in the
Civil War are located at the Library of Virginia.
These records often include such information as date and place of enlistment, date of birth, occupation, and listing of wartime duties.
If you do not find the name you are looking for in the published roster cited
above, you should check the card index called
Confederate Rosters located at the Library of
Virginia, which is now available online by using this link http://lva1.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/F/?func=file&file_name=find-b-clas31&local_base=CLAS31, and following the prompt to "Index to Virginia Confederate Rosters." This list was generated by the state of Virginia and includes some names
that are not in the records at the National Archives.
Regimental histories can be searched through the online catalog by entering the name of the unit (for example: "28th Virginia Infantry") in the subject box.
Military service records for Confederate soldiers from Virginia can be searched through Fold3 (subscription database).
Other sources which may be helpful are:
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion. Washington, 1901 (128 volumes) (Ref. E464. U6 1985). A compilation of all field reports, correspondence, military orders, memoranda, etc.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Washington, 1922. (31 volumes) (E591 .U58). Indexed.
To look up a regiment in the index of the Official Records, turn to the state and find the designation "Troops" followed by (C.) or (U.) indicating Confederate or Union. Individual names are also indexed.
Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Wilmington, N.C., 1994– (Ref. E464 .U6 1985 Suppl.)
Part I. Reports, vols. 1–12 (Index, vols. 11, 12).
Part II. Record of Events, vols. 1–69, serials 13–81. Arranged
by name of state and unit.
These volumes are also located in the Reading Room.
Confederate Veteran, 1893–1932. The official publication of the United
Confederate Veterans, the Confederate
Southern Memorial Association, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Includes
reminiscences of soldiers and civilians,
reports on southern patriotic organizations, reunions, etc. Genealogical information
is often included, and many obituaries of veterans
are published. See also: Cumulative Index to the Confederate Veteran (Ref.
E482 C74 and E482 C74 Index)
Southern Historical Society Papers, 1876–1959 (52 volumes) The S.H.S.P.
include official reports,
personal recollections, unit rosters, correspondence, etc. (Ref. E483.7 S76)
Robertson, James I., Jr., An Index-Guide to the Southern Historical Society Papers,
1876–1959. Millwood, N.Y., 1980 (2 vols.)
(Ref. E483.7 S76 R62)
Wallace, Lee A. A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations, 1861–1865.
Lynchburg, Va., 1986. Identifies Virginia regiments,
battalions, and companies that existed during the Civil War. Not a roster (Ref.
E581.4 W25 1986)
[More information about Civil War research materials]
The Virginia Historical Society has some wills in its collection. They can be searched under the subject heading "wills" followed by the name of the county. Virginia wills prior to 1800 are listed in Clayton Torrence's Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632–1800 (Ref. F225 T85). There are a few omissions in Torrence, and the Library of Virginia has a card file of these. Virginia wills during the period 1800-1865 are listed in Index to Virginia Estates, 1800-1865 compiled by Wesley E. Pippenger (Virginia Genealogical Society, Ref. F225 P665 2001). Wills are county records and are on microfilm at the Library of
Marriages and Obituaries
A card index to Virginia marriages and obituaries from Virginia newspapers, 1736–1820, is located in the
Reading Room at the far end of the card catalog. The drawers have yellow labels. This index is approximately 50%
complete. Genealogical information is copied in full on the cards.
Published indexes to marriages and obituaries in Virginia newspapers are shelved together in the Reading Room next to the Swem Index.
Published lists or abstracts of marriage records can be found under the subject headings MARRIAGE LICENSES or MARRIAGE RECORDS in the card or online catalog.
County Court Records
Microfilm copies of all county court records (wills, deeds, marriage bonds, and court orders) are at the Library of Virginia. Many court records, however, have been abstracted and published. They are cataloged under the subject heading COURT RECORDS -- VIRGINIA, followed by the name of the county.
Surname Index of Antient Press Publications (Ref. Z232 A62 S73) is a name index to 214 books containing abstracts of records (deeds, wills, and orders) of sixteen Virginia counties and two cities. (The counties are: Albemarle, Caroline, Culpeper, Essex, Fairfax, King George, Lancaster, Loudoun, Madison, Middlesex, Northumberland, Orange, Prince William, Old Rappahannock, Richmond, Spotsylvania, and Stafford; cities: Fredericksburg and Petersburg.) The abstracts cover varied spans of years.
In the reading room, there is a separate card index for all entries in Bibles in our collection. The index is in the last row of the card catalogs. Patrons can check the online catalog for Bible Records by conducting a search with the surname (entered as "smith family") in the subject box, with the phrase "bible records" in the keyword box. It should be noted, however, that Bible records have not been digitized and thus are not available for online viewing.
Some researchers have donated research notes to us, which are often cataloged with our Manuscript Collections. Patrons can check the online catalog for Genealogical Notes by conducting a search with the surname (entered as "taylor family") in the subject box, with the phrase "genealogical notes" in the keyword box. It should be noted, however, that Genealogical Notes have not been digitized and thus are not available for online viewing.
Birth and Death Records
Early records of births and deaths in Virginia are almost non-existent. Official records of births and deaths were not kept until 1853. An index to birth records between 1853 and 1896 is available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia. Death records are not indexed. Microfilm copies of birth and death records from 1853 to 1896
are at the Library of Virginia.
From 1896 to 1912, there was no statewide recording of births and deaths. Records of births and deaths after 1912
are available from the Virginia Department of Vital Statistics, (2001 Maywill St., Richmond, VA 2330)
In the reading room, there is a card index to newspapers in our collection in the "Special Catalogs" row. The index is arranged by year, then alphabetically by place. Patrons can consult the online catalog to check our newspaper holdings. It should be noted that the phrase "Dates of Publication" does not indicate that we possess every issue within that time span. Only the phrase "VHS Holdings" in the citation indicates the issues of the newspapers we possess. Moreover, as mentioned above, we have not digitized the vast majority of our holdings—including newspapers. The most efficient means for searching the online catalog for newspapers is by entering a place of publication, such as "richmond (va)" in the subject box with the title of the newspaper, such as "enquirer" in the keyword box, and restricting the search to "newspapers" by checking the box toward the bottom of the search screen.
In the reading room, there is a section of the card catalog devoted to maps. It begins immediately after the manuscripts catalog section, and cards are arranged by locality (city, state, county, etc.) and then by date.
African American Genealogy
African American genealogical research should be approached initially just as any genealogical research is begun: start with your immediate family and work backward, generation by generation. African Americans are usually able to trace their ancestry back to the end of the Civil War without too much
difficulty by using census records,
county court records (deeds, marriages, wills, etc.), church and cemetery records,
and vital statistics (birth and death).
Before the Civil War, free blacks were documented in public records such as
those listed above.
Pre-1865 slave families, however, seldom appear in public records because they
could not own property and had few legal rights.
Unknown No Longer (online database of names of enslaved Virginians found in VHS documents)
• Guide to African American manuscripts in the collections of the VHS
Slavery in Virginia
Slavery was legalized in Virginia in the 1660s. Between 1700 and 1773, 80,000
or more slaves were imported into the colony.
After 1773, Virginia virtually stopped importing slaves. Because of the natural
increase of slaves, many Virginians became active slave
traders and many slaves were sold to states farther south, particularly in the
nineteenth century. In 1808, Congress outlawed the
importation of slaves into the United States, thus making domestic slave trade
much more important. The two groups of people
who dominated interstate slave trade were professional slave traders and southern
Deeds were one means of transferring ownership of slaves. Recording of slave
sales was not required in Virginia,
however, so very few deeds for slave sales exist. Some deeds have survived in
collections of family papers. These
deeds in family collections are useful only if the name of the slave owner is known.
Occasionally slave sales are recorded as
part of land deeds or estate settlements. Slaves are not named in personal property
tax records after 1810.
Identifying the owner of a slave is very difficult. Sometimes collateral research
(whole families including spouses and in-laws) can lead to the name of the slave-owning
If you are able to identify the owner of your ancestor, you might be able to find
records pertaining to
the slave owners as well as to the slaves (such as plantation records, wills naming
Searching for slave ancestors always requires a thorough investigation of the white
slave-owning family in all records.
You should also investigate the slave owner's extended family including his spouse's
At the time of emancipation, slaves adopted surnames. They did not usually take
the surname of their most
recent owner but sometimes took the given name of their father or the surname of an
earlier owner, a prominent local citizen,
or a prominent American (such as Washington or Lincoln). For this reason, it is
usually not profitable to try to match black
surnames with those of plantation masters. One should try instead to trace a freed
slave to his/her mother. The slave mothers'
owner usually has a different surname than the freedman. Records to use in order to
find a slave mother are census records for
1870, birth records (after 1853), and marriage records (after 1865). Marriage records
of black couples following the Civil War
usually provide the names of their parents. The Virginia Historical Society has only
the census records.
If a slave was born after 1852, his or her name, birth date, and mother's name might
be recorded in the
Register of Births, which is available on microfilm at the
Library of Virginia. (NOTE: We do not have
at the Virginia Historical Society.) Not all slave births after 1853 were reported.
Many slave births were reported
but do not name the child or mother.
The first listing of all African Americans by name in a federal census was in 1870.
In l850 and
l860 slaves were counted in separate slave schedules, but the census schedules did
not list slaves
by name; they were listed, usually unnamed, in age and sex categories under the name
of the owner.
If the owner is known, these schedules are useful, however, as evidence that a slave
of a certain age
and sex was the property of a particular owner in 1850 (Mss 10: no. 45) and 1860 (Mss 10: no. 383).
Free blacks who were heads of households were listed by name from 1790 to 1840
and the names
of all free household members were included in the l850 and l860 census schedules.
Wills and Inventories of Estates
Slaves are often mentioned in wills because slave owners frequently made wills
distribution of their property, including slaves, among their heirs. If the owner
died without a will, the
court appointed an administrator to compile an inventory of the estate and arrange
for the sale or distribution
of property. These estate records often listed the slaves. Most wills and inventories
are at the Library of Virginia.
Those in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society may be found by looking
in the catalog
under the subject headings WILLS and INVENTORIES OF ESTATES, followed by the name of the county
and the property owner.
The Virginia Historical Society has many collections of family papers that
contain plantation records.
Often these records include references to slaves, such as registers or lists
of slaves, family Bible records
of slave births and deaths, and deeds of slave sales. Although the number of
these collections is very
small when compared with the large numbers of slave holders in Virginia, they
are useful if the name of
the slave owner is known. Guide to African-American Manuscripts in the
Collection of the Virginia Historical
Society contains a description of, and index to, these records. They are
more fully described in the manuscript catalog.
The library has an extensive collection of state and county histories, genealogies, and published records. Until recently, these sources only occasionally included the names of African Americans. These sources may include information on slave-owning families and plantations. In addition to looking up names and localities in the book catalog, other useful
subject headings include AFRICAN AMERICANS--GENEALOGY and AFRICAN AMERICANS--VIRGINIA.
A good starting point for patrons new to African American genealogical research is the book Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity (Ref. E185.96 .W898 1999).