Into Virginia

Virginia Capitol in Richmond

After a few productive research trips in North Carolina, I finally had enough information to extend my search into Virginia. From a physical perspective, it is closer to where I was raised but, from a chronological perspective, Virginia has always been a little further from my documented family relationships. It was exciting to have specific people to research, so I spent a day at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

The Library of Virginia is much larger and more technologically advanced than the State Archives of North Carolina. Within an hour, I realized the magnitude of the collection of information and accepted that I would have to return several times to retrieve all the records I need. This is the humbling reality of genealogical research.

Using libraries to their full potential requires a different skill set than using the Internet. Do you remember learning to use the card catalog at the library as a child? I do—but I also remember it being replaced by computers. Most—if not all—historical archives still use this system. Have you ever used microfilm? Many records are exclusively available in this form and learning to use readers requires some practice.

In my previous post about developing a research strategy I shared a number of general recommendations. After this trip, I can add two more:

1. Do a thorough analysis of the library catalog prior to traveling.

In addition to learning what is on-site, learn exactly how it is organized and the terminology used to describe various resources. For the Library of Virginia, this information is available here: Using the Collections. If you are unsure about how to find a record, call the library and consult with an archivist before you go. I learned on this trip that librarians and archivists have unique roles and not all librarians are familiar with old, rare records.

2. Focus your research trip on one question.

The quality of the records you find is more important than the quantity. On this trip, I spent time searching for records for a number of surnames but left without answering longstanding questions for any of them. In hindsight, my time would have been better spent collecting one crucial record rather than 10 or 20 inconsequential records. Prioritize your research needs and collect the most important records first—even if they are more difficult to access.

I was able to collect a number of 18th century records for the Basses of Norfolk County and the Salmon(s)/Sammon(s) of Princess Anne County on my trip. I will need time to integrate new information into these developing stories, so I will save updates for subsequent posts. I was also able to see a number of old maps of coastal, colonial Virginia. This information will be available in the new “Transportation” tab.

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