Genealogy record loss is a fact of life in Virginia. Some 41 counties out of 100 have suffered substantial property document loss over the 400 years since Virginia was founded. And the 39 independent cities in Virginia produce records from the date they were actually chartered–some early and some late.*
Remember, “in the beginning, all was Virginia.” And Augusta County, created in 1745 west of the Blue Ridge mountains, took in most of the American continent. Luckily, Augusta has not suffered record loss.
I recently reviewed the online databases and catalogs of the Library of Virginia (the state archives, including the Virginia Land Office) for property records that cover Augusta County. WOW! A list of more that 25 pages. And the majority of those on microfilm can be borrowed on interlibrary loan through your nearest public library.
The Library of Virginia, http://www.lva.lib.va.us, houses both microfilm and loose records from many counties and independent cities within Virginia. It does not have all of the original records for any locality. The records for Augusta County are listed under several categories, with microfilm reel numbers, short title or description of the records, dates included, and brief comments. Using this list, you can decide which records fit your research dimensions.
While the Family History Library, http://familysearch.org, in Salt Lake City has microfilm copies of many of these same records for Augusta County, it does not have all those listed at the Library of Virginia. And since the FHL collects records from a variety of repositories, those for Augusta County include many records not found at LVA.
Why the Jurisdictional Challenge for Virginia Genealogy Research is important for Your Genealogy:
- Each level of jurisdiction creates unique records that cover specific parts of the population
- You are dependent upon the records that have survived to trace your family tree correctly
- Libraries catalog and file records by authorship rather than category, and the jurisdictions are the authors
- Where loss of records occurs at one level, you can often use the records of other levels to fill in the holes
- Records produced by special jurisdictions have often been unavailable until recent databases and catalogs included descriptions of each jurisdiction and indexes to their records
- Most genealogical sources in Virginia omit large chunks of people–a research fact that most genealogy textbooks neglect to tell you–so how would you know to check these other jurisdictions? Consider these omissions in traditional sources: wills (40%-80%), probate inventories (up to 60%), tax lists and tithables (10%-20%), church records (50% and higher), deeds (up to 40%), censuses (15% to 45%), customs and passenger lists (over 40%).
Some years ago, Palladium Interactive, Inc. digitized Augusta County’s Deeds, 1743-1800 (CD40013), Wills, 1743-1800 (CD40012), and Marriages, 1748-1850 (CD40014) as part of their Ultimate Family Data Library. These databases are available at the Family History Library (main library only, under CD#107), online or for sale from http://www.genealogy.com, and online at http://www.ancestry.com/historicalrecords. Other genealogy libraries may also have the original CD’s.
What took me months of days reading through more than 750 deeds on microfilm for Augusta County Johnsons/Johnstons now can be accomplished in a matter of minutes and you can print out a master list for the surname you are searching. A study of the computerized list can quickly identify the specific deeds that need to be examined as a whole document/image.
As a rule of thumb, I personally examined all deeds where both grantor and grantee are Johnson/Johnston, all deeds with Johnson/Johnston et al, all quit claim deeds, and all documents during the 2-4 year period when the pedigree ancestor dies. I photocopied those that applied to the specific ancestor where the full property description is given and abstract all the rest that I examined. Then I studied the documents carefully to put the family together.
The wonder of the computerized list is that you have it to refer to again and again, in case you need another document in the property title chain.
Reading a property record correctly is an art. And you can train yourself to do it well. Regardless of what genealogy teachers have told you in the past–you must read all the words in the document. How else will you know what land is described and what is being done with it?
Except for the specifics on Virginia and Augusta County–what I have written today will apply to any American property documents in any jurisdiction. And to much of the British Isles as well. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle
PS Remember that I am compiling another volume in my Virginia Genealogy Scrapbook series on Virginia Jurisdictions. Lists of counties where record losses occur and of independent cities is included. You can also find the list of independent cities on the Library of Virginia site.