In the beginning, all of my genealogy research was Virginia. And I learned that “Virginia is for Lovers” of genealogy: Eakle, Johnston, Berry, Leake, Grant, Dabney–some surnames were Valley names, some Old Virginia names, some Huguenot surnames.
Several years ago, I graduated from an American Genealogy class on 27 Feb and left for Virginia on a research trip early the next morning. It was 15 degrees below zero and the windows of the car did not defrost until we entered Tennessee. With me were my husband Alma, my mother-in-law Mary Alice, and my sister-in-law Betty.
We arrived in Lexington, Virginia late in the day, 4 March. The air was balmy, no wind, and a touch of sunset along the horizon. We drove around until it became too dark to see, then checked into a small motel on the Rockbridge-Augusta County line.
In shock, we arose next morning to more than a foot of snow that had fallen during the night. It continued to snow all day, and all night. Over 36 inches! The roads were closed. The courthouse was closed. The University was closed. Everything shut down–even the telephone crackled.
Not to worry. We were used to snow. Our car had new snow tires purchased just for the trip. The Virginians did not even have snowplows! So we sat and waited for the snow to melt. And for state highway equipment to come from West Virginia. I spent the hours on the telephone, making appointments and determining where the records were and how best to access them.
As it turned out, we had a super successful genealogy research trip…
And I learned amazing, unique things about Virginia genealogy…
How to find “lost” church records:
- Itinerant ministers stored the churchbooks in the pulpit between visits and recorded vital events first in a pocket-sized diary or daybook. This essential knowledge came from Nat G. Barnhart, a local, itinerant Methodist minister.
- A churchbook that contained compromising information could be hidden away, by the deacons, until persons mentioned in the pages died or moved away. This Presbyterian register I discovered at the University of Virginia, Special Collections, in Charlottesville.
- Churchbooks may be preserved in any library–not just those nearby.
Retired postmen know where the bodies are buried–literally:
- Paul C. Shirey, newly retired from the U.S. Postal Service, compiled a master list of cemeteries in Augusta County for me–462 cemeteries. He identified those connected to churches, family burial grounds, private and public cemeteries, along with directions on how to get there.
- He prepared a map with churches and cemeteries marked, indicating which ones needed permission to search.
- Mr. Shirey also contacted ministers and administrators to locate sextons’ registers, where they existed. And he accompanied us to search them.
We searched them all–once the snow melted and we could travel around. 462 graveyards in Augusta County Virginia: on hillsides, attached to churches, in cow pastures with cattle grazing around and through, behind barns. Every single cemetery.
You need to know the legalities, or the laws which underlay the records. We spent 5 days searching records in the courthouse–deeds, wills, equity court files, and a myriad of little-known and often overlooked record categories. Since were the only customers in the courthouse, we got A-1 treatment. This allowed me to ask all the questions I wanted to:
- A witness is a) physically present in court to certify the signatures, b) a resident of the county, c) usually 21 years of age although they could be as young as age 14, d) not a legatee or beneficiary to the property in question, e) could be related to one or more of the contracting parties, f) required to sign on the document (and sometimes write an original signature on the recorded copy kept at the courthouse).
- Virginia law protects the right to legal privacy in land ownership and inheritance. The government, in Virginia, does not need to know all your legal business. If your ancestor’s personal property was sufficient to pay debts, there was no need to mention landholdings or their monetary value. Real estate passed directly to heirs/devisees without being made a matter of public record. Your ancestor’s will, filed in the county of residence, was sufficient to transfer title in every county where land was owned–no other conveyance was needed. The reason for an estate settlement was a) payment of outstanding debts and b) payment of just legacies to heirs at law.
Just because there is no record, does not prove that a person owned no land or that he had no heirs. And a will does not have to name the spouse, the oldest son, all the daughters.
On a corner of the Eakle farm in New Hope, was a small cemetery. Cattle roamed at will around and through the gravestones. Between the graveyard and the house, there once was a church built of logs. The church was called the Eakle Church (Eggels Church) and over the years, it accommodated German Reformed and Lutheran members as a Union Church, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, and German-speaking Church of the Brethren. Ultimately and today, the congregation is Methodist. A local school also was taught in this log building with grades 1-8.
In 1969, I returned to Virginia with my almost 12-year-old son John. I wanted him to learn, firsthand, the way I did that “Virginia is for Lovers” of genealogy. We visited the Eakle cemetery in a driving rain storm. Sloshing through the muddy field, we looked for the tombstone of Catherine (Kennedy) Eakle, the daughter of John Baker Eakle and the wife of John Kennedy. Her stone was the last, whole stone in the cemetery. How I wanted to lift it in my arms and bring it home with me. Of course, it was too heavy. “Mother, leave it there, the stone doesn’t matter. It isn’t her, it is just her stone,” John said.
Your Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://virginiagenealogyblog.com