The Library of Virginia is the place to go for comprehensive wide ranging research into the history and genealogy of Virginia. There are many other libraries that off resources, including dozens of local county libraries and historical societies, but none that is as large. Below is a brief account of the resources available to those who may find themselves in Richmond for a bit of research.
Founded in 1823 by the General Assembly, the Library of Virginia was created to be the preserver and holder of the already vast collection of government records and books. Now at its fourth location since its inception the collection continues to grow through the accusation of current government documents as well as through private donations. The collection contains well over 10 million items from manuscripts to bound books. Hundreds of guides are available as PDFs on the website to help guide your research and answer questions on what each collection contains. You can find these under “guides and indexes” on the Using the Collections page.
Many of the items in the state archive, located at the Library of Virginia, are on microfilm. This includes county court records, military records, land grants, census records, and some personal papers. What I particularly love is being able to see the indexed accounts and abstracts from a book in the stacks and then simply walk over to the rolls of microfilm and pull it out to look at the image it was taken from.
Even with the extensive microfilm collection there are still items that you can request to see from the archives. The Special collections Reading Room is open Monday – Friday by appointment only. Also, the Archives Annex Reading Room is open Wednesday and Thursday, but you should talk to the Archives Research Reference Staff about materials located there. A rule of thumb: if you are not sure make sure to email or call about where an item is located and how you can view it.
For those doing long distance research the Virginia Memory portion of the website is a wonderful collection. This is a one stop site for the digital collections at the library. Colonial to modern records, photographs, maps, and more are located here under the digital collections tab. Take time to browse the site, but there are a few collections of interest.
- Lost Records Localities Digital Collection: these are secondary records to help piece together missing information from the numerous burned counties in Virginia.
- CW 150 Legacy Project: in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this collection is made up of items that are still in private collections and consist of letters, photographs, diaries, and other family treasures.
- The War of 1812 Bicentennial Collection: select items to showcase the library’s collection of artifacts celebrating the 200th anniversary of the war.
- Legislative Petitions Digital Collection: these are petitions to the general assembly from 1776-1865 and cover a wide range of topics from citizens of the common wealth.
- Military Service Collections: there are nearly a dozen topics in the collection covering the Revolutionary War to World War I.
Finally, get to know the online catalog. Don’t be afraid to use the advanced search or when you get into a pickle emailing the staff for help. They are all very quick and kind when answering questions. The search will also help you identify if you can see the record online, on microfilm, or if you have to go in person. There is inter-library loan available on many items, including microfilm. To figure out what is and is not allowed see this information sheet on the library website.
The Common Wealth: Treasures from the collections of the Library of Virginia edited by Sandra Gioia Treadway and Edward D.C. Campbell Jr.