Traditional Genealogy Search Methods Are Often Needed For Virginia Records

Access to so much information online may mislead you into thinking you can solve tough Virginia genealogy research problems with a few clicks of the mouse.  Not so!

Record loss because of missed entries in sources that were:

  1. written on convenient slips of paper torn from edges of record books
  2. copied into ledgers provided by government  agencies
  3. microfilmed by technicians who often had no idea what they filmed
  4. scanned into digital format from microforms 
  5. indexed by non-English speakers in foreign lands
  6. searched by selected spellings
  7. retrieved mechanically by exact spelling as typed by foreign indexers

Read Lynn C. McMillion, “An Index Can Be A Roadblock,” The Virginia Genealogist 21 (July-Sep 1977) 205-06.  Ms McMillion cautions, “Good effective research can begin with a published index, but MUST NOT END THERE.  Search an index for alternate spellings of the name; then locate them in the actual census…When too much reliance is placed on indexes–especially mass-produced ones–they become roadblocks to research.”

You can read the census records online frame by frame without using online indexes.  Just remember that the online version comes from microfilm, not a new scanning of the original handwritten pages.  If the filmer missed a page, you will too.  And page numbers are not a lot of help–because they have been numbered and re-numbered over and over.  

If you sit quietly in the corner of your local genealogy library with a stack of The Virginia Genealogist issues beside you, you can begin to make some progress.  John Frederick Dorman edited the magazine from 1957 to 1996, filling 40 volumes with record extracts.

There is a basic focus in those volumes, if you do sit quietly and examine them all.  Dorman sought to fill in the gaps where the records were missing. He included the 1800 tax lists county-by-county (alphabetically).  He printed the British Mercantile Claims, 1775-1803 serially–providing more specific details than more recent printed versions.  

Genealogists from all over the country submitted names missed in printed census editions.  For example, “Some Corrected Readings to the 1625 Census,” submitted by William Thorndale, Volume 37 (Jan-Mar 1993) 54. And “Virginia 1820 Federal Census:  Names Not On The Microfilm Copy,” submitted by Gerald M. Petty, Volume 18 (Apr-Jun 1974) 136-39.

“Some Delinquent Taxpayers, 1787-1790,” submitted by Robert Y. Clay, Volumes 19-21 (1976-1978).  These census substitutes for the missing 1790 schedules, also give the next place of settlement for those Virginians who left without clearing their tax bills.  A very nice bonus.  These are just examples of the goodies that await you.  

Account books, militia lists, legislative petitions, land office warrants, and special census schedules for the independent city of Alexandria continue the focus on those sections of Virginia where record loss is especially grievous. And each volume is indexed and there are cumulative indexes in the reprint and CD editions

Many genealogy libraries subscribed to The Virginia Genealogist from the beginning.  Libraries established later acquired the reprint edition from Heritage Books of Bowie, Maryland. Or ordered the CD-Rom available in 1994.  If you want your own set, most of the volumes are still available:  

Or you can access the volumes at your local Family History Center on3 rolls of microfilm, FHL 844855-57.  Your favorite Virginia Genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  I don’t hesitate to read the handwritten records when I work on a tough Virginia ancestor and you shouldn’t hesitate either.

PPS  And watch for my newly remodeled Home Page–easier to navigate and find stuff.

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