Wednesday, March 24, 2010

17th Century Virginia Research

My major genealogical activity this week is to try to stitch together my 17th Century Virginia ancestry. Those of us who have New England colonial ancestors are spoiled. Most of the early towns there kept meticulous records and most of them have survived more or less intact. Virginia, in the first century of settlement was a colony of a different color--genealogically speaking. Few of the records of the first half century--if they were kept--have survived and the second half century is only marginally better.

The Library of Virginia divides early Virginia county research into three categories:

"Several Virginia counties, most of them in the eastern part of the state, have suffered tremendous loss of their early records during the intense military activity that occurred during the Civil War, and others lost records in fires. At some point, almost everyone conducting genealogical or historical research will face the problem of finding information from a so-called "Burned Record county." Burned record counties might be grouped into three basic categories: Hopeless, Almost Hopeless, and Difficult. Included in the Hopeless category are James City, New Kent, Buckingham, Nansemond, Dinwiddie (before 1782), Appomattox, Buchanan, King and Queen, Warwick, and Henrico (before 1677). Almost Hopeless are Hanover, Prince George, Elizabeth City, and Gloucester. Difficult counties are Caroline, Charles City, King William, Mathews, Prince William, Stafford, Rockingham, and Nottoway."

Unfortunately many of my early Virginia ancestors spent some of the 17th Century in one or more of the "hopeless" counties. In particular:

"Henrico: created in 1634 as an original shire, all county court records prior to 1655 and almost all prior to 1677 are missing; additionally, many isolated records were destroyed during the Revolutionary War, and almost all Circuit Court records were destroyed by fire in Richmond on 3 April 1865."
http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/va22_burnedco.htm

When I encountered this situation a dozen or so years ago, I made a half-hearted attempt to verify the myth that my ancestress, Ann Farmer who was born in 1728, had an immigrant ancestor who came to Jamestown before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. I was able to find that a Thomas Farmer did arrive in Jamestown in October, 1616 aboard the Tryall. However, whether or how Ann may have descended from him was beyond the records I could then find. I stitched together a possible connecting line. However, I was not very comfortable with it. I guess my ancestors were not yet ready to reveal themselves.

Recently I have been collecting data from the Internet and from printed sources in libraries. I am now trying to stitch it together. More on this effort tomorrow as the process continues.

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