An informative and respected website designed to offer
resources for obituaries, funerals and genealogy search

Genealogical Research in Virginia

Genealogy Research Virginia

As the site of the first American colony, there is a wealth of genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in Virginia. Because of the abundance of information held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping you to understand:

  • What they are
  • Where to find them
  • How to use them

These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in Virginia. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Old Dominion State” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your Virginia ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of Virginia

When the first English speaking peoples arrived early in the 17th century, Tidewater Virginia was populated mostly by Algonkian-speakers. The natives were hunters and fishers as well planters who lived in the pole-framed dwellings we know as teepees, which formed small, barricaded towns. The area around Piedmont was the home of the Monacan, Manahoac, and Tutelo, all of the Sioux family, while the Cherokee lived in the far southwestern triangle Virginia.

The first permanent English settlement, not only in Virginia, but what was to become America, was established at Jamestown on 13 May 1607. The new land was named Virginia in honor of her majesty Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen." The London Company (also called the Virginia Company) sponsored the first successful settlement, a joint-stock venture chartered by King James I in 1606. The entire American coast between 30° and 45°N and extending inland for 50 mi (80 km) was designated as Virginia, the are was further extended in 1609 and again in 1612 to include the entire area from California to east of the Bermuda Islands.

The early settlers of Jamestown suffered internal strife, conflict with the Native Americans in the area, and starvation. They were at the point of deserting the colony when three supply ships arrived in the nick of time in 1610, one of them carrying a certain Capt. John Smith, whose military skill and resourcefulness would inevitably save the colony from extinction. Captain Smith is best known for his marriage to the Algonquian Princess, Pocahontas. Smith also charted the coast of Virginia and established the colonial tobacco industry.

King James I revoked the Virginia Company’s charter in 1624, and the colon y would remain loyal to the crown until 1776. Despite hardships and setbacks such as disease and Indian attacks, Jamestown grew steadily, and soon the crown cast its eye towards taxation. After the general assembly attempted to collect taxes from an area that had no legislative representation in 1653, Colonel Thomas Johnson initiated the Northampton Declaration, which embodied the principle of “no taxation without representation.” Thus the rallying cry for the American Revolution was born.

Following the Crown’s inability to protect the Virginian settlers from Indian attacks, in 1676 the colonists sought their own security, finding it in a young planter by the name of Nathaniel Bacon. While fighting against the native forces, Bacon and his charges turned their fight against the Crown, sparking a short lived revolt which ended with Bacon’s death from fever in October of the same year.

Material and cultural progress marked the end of the 17th century, and the capitol was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg. Industry expanded beyond the production of tobacco, and immigrants from Germany, and Scotch-Irish flocked to the area. After the French and Indian War of 1756-63, Virginians lost confidence in the crown, though the war did give emergence to a young and talented Virginian militiaman by the name of George Washington.

Virginians repeatedly challenged actions by the crown after the French and Indian War, sometimes independently, other times joined by neighboring colonies. The Stamp Act was opposed in 1765, and Virginia joined Massachusetts in appealing to all other colonies to act against British governance. A boycott of British goods was initiated by Virginia in 1769, and joined the other colonies in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress on 1774.

Virginia was the first of the colonies to instruct its delegates to vote for independence at the Continental Congress of 1776. It was a native Virginian, Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Declaration of Independence, and the same year the colony adopted their own constitution and declaration of rights, which became the basis for the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution. Virginians took the lead in the Revolutionary War, as Virginia was a major battlefield, and it was on Virginia soil that Cornwallis surrendered to now General George Washington at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

Virginians occupied the presidency for all but four of the nation’s first twenty eight years, George Washington of course being the first. The early part of the 19th century saw much concern over slavery, as the Virginian general assembly had consistently outlawed the importation of slaves from as early as 1700, only to be constantly overruled by the Crown. In 1778 the Virginia legislature, no longer subject to veto by the Crown, instructed that any slave brought into the state would be automatically freed upon arrival. The number of free blacks grew tenfold by 1810, and though some were able to support themselves as farmers and artisans, many could not find work.

Fearing that disillusioned and malcontent free blacks might incite rebellion in those who were still slaves, the general assembly decreed in 1806 that each slave emancipated must leave the state within one year or after reaching the age of 21. The slave revolt headed by Nat Turner in 1831 further increased white fears of black emancipation. Nevertheless, legislation to end slavery in Virginia failed adoption by only seven votes the following year.

Slavery was not the only issue faced by 19th century Virginians. The slavery Although the state become a leading center of artistic, scientific, and educational advancement, during this era, the Civil War brought such advances to a rapid end. The governor of Virginia at that time, Governor John Letcher was a Union man, as were the majority of the state’s political leaders. Virginia only seceded from the Union after President Lincoln marched troops across the state to punish those that were in rebellion. Shortly thereafter, Richmond, Virginia’s capitol since 1780, became the capitol of the Confederacy. As the principal battlefield of the Civil war, Virginia paid a heavy price during the conflict. The state was placed under military government in 1867, and though readmitted to the Union in 1870, was at that time a completely bankrupt state, with debt of over $45 million.

Famous Battles Fought in Virginia

As a leader in the American Revolutionary War and the principal battlefield during the Civil War, there are many famous battles that have been fought in Virginia. Important Revolutionary War battles were fought at Great Bridge, Petersburg, and Yorktown, and Rootsweb has a complete listing of Virginia Civil War Battles.

The battle accounts that exist can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men.

Common Virginia Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching Virginia ancestors. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of Virginia.

Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.

Virginia Genealogical Organizations and Archives

Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.

Virginia Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – county records, census, manuscripts, historical newspapers, maps, photographs, Native American index, surname list, military name index

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681


      400 West Pershing Road
      Kansas City, MO 64108.
      Phone: 816-268-8000

    • Kansas State University – manuscript collections, literary papers, diaries and journals, photographs, broadsides, maps, audio visual items, oral histories, and printed material.

      University Archives
      Farrell Library
      Manhattan, KS 66506
      Tel: (913) 532-7456

Additional Virginia Genealogical Resources

Virginia Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on Virginia genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Virginia Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.

Virginia Message Boards

A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the Virginia Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

Virginia Newspapers and Periodicals

Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills.

  • Virginia newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – African American publications, Civilian Conservation Corps, Labour Populist publications, Socialist publications, Territorial period newspapers, History of Kansas newspapers from1916

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas Heritage Center – most of the newspapers published in Dodge City from 1876 to the present and newspapers from several other Kansas towns.

      PO Box 1207
      Dodge City KS 67801-1207
      Tel: 620-227-1616
      Fax: 620-227-1701

    • – free searchable database of Kansas newspaper archives, 1841-1981
    • Library of Congress Digital Newspaper Directory – free searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers dating from 1690-present
    • The Online Books Page – links to historical books and periodicals available for viewing online, dating from mid-16th century
    • – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.

Historical Virginia Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in.

For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research.

Virginia City Directories

City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in Virginia is the Virginia Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available historical directory related to Virginia.

Virginia Genealogical Records

Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories and websites where you can find Virginia vital records

Virginia began recording official records of births and deaths in 1911. Marriage licenses were required starting in 1867, but not filed at state level until 1913.

  • Copies of vital records after those dates must be requested from the:
    • Kansas Office of Vital Statistics

      Charles B. Curtis State Office Building
      1000 SW Jackson Street
      Suite 120
      Topeka, KS 66612-1221
      Tel: 785-296-1400.

    • Kansas Genealogical Society – various historical vital records

      KGS, PO Box 103
      Dodge City, KS 67801-0103
      Tel: (620) 225 - 1951

    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – extensive collection of vital records dating from pre-territorial times

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

Marriage and Divorce Records

Marriages prior to May 1913 were recorded in the district county courts where the marriage took place. Virginia marriage licenses did not include the names of the parents unless the bride or groom was underage. Records can be found at:

Divorce records from 1861 until July 1951 were recorded in the Virginia District Courts.

Copies of official divorce records after July 1951 can be ordered from the Virginia Office of Vital Statistics.

Census Reports

Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.

Virginia Church Records

Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them.

Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records.

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.

Virginia Military Records

More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.

Virginia Cemetery Records

As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:

  • Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
  • The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
  • Databases that can be searched online for Virginia Cemetery records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Access Genealogy – huge database of Virginia cemetery record transcriptions
    • Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
    • - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
    • Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.

Virginia Obituaries

Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our Virginia Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Virginia newspapers online for free.

Virginia Wills and Probate Records

The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors.

Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.

Virginia probate records have been recorded by the probate division clerks of the Virginia District Courts and include dockets, wills, oaths, inventories, letters, bonds, appraisements, accounts, court orders, claims, and final settlements.

Virginia Immigration and Naturalization Records

The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

Most overseas immigrants came to Virginia through east coast ports such as New, and then traveled by railway to Virginia. Earlier immigrants landed at New Orleans and then traveled by steamboats upriver to Virginia. The U.S. National Archives has passenger lists or indexes of American ports for 1820 to 1940, as well as immigration and naturalization records for the entire United States. These records can also be accessed at the National Archives Regional Branch in Virginia City

Virginia Native American Records

Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Virginia Ancestors

Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in Virginia where traditional records may not reveal them.


  • The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1689, Warren M. Billings (University of North Carolina Press, 1975)
  • Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia, Kathleen M. Brown University of North Carolina Press, 1996)
  • First Flowerings: Early Virginia Quilts, DAR Museum, 1987
  • Ladies of Richmond, the Confederate Capital, Katherine Jones (Bobbs-Merrill, 1961)
  • The Free Women of St. Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860, Suzanne Lebsock (Norton & Co., 1984)
  • Virginians at Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century, Edward S. Morgan (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1952)
  • Virginia Women: The First Two Hundred Years, Suzanne Lebsock and Suzanne Smith Ray (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988)

Selected Resources for Virginia Women’s History

Library of Virginia
800 East Broad Street
  Richmond, Virginia 23219-8000

Fishburn Library
Hollins College
Hollins, VA 24020

Judy Mann DiStefano Women’s History Collection
Annandale Campus Library
Northern Virginia Community College
8333 Little River Turnpike
Annandale, VA 22003

Ladies Association of the Union Archives
Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, VA 22121

United Daughters of the Confederacy
328 North Boulevard
Richmond, VA 23211-0311

Common Virginia Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in Virginia and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.

Adams, Addington, Agee, Alderson, Allen, Alley, Anderson, Arnold, Ash, Ashworth, Austin, Aytes, Babb, Baker, Baldwin, Ball, Barker, Barnett, Barrett, Bays, Beddo, Begley, Bellamy, Benton, Bickman, Bishop, Bledsaw, Bledsoe, Blessing, Bloomer, Boggs, Bolin, Booher, Booker, Booth, Bowen, Bowens, Brannon, Brickey, Brickley, Broadwater, Brotherton, Bruner, Bryant, Buckner, Burchette, Burns, Butler, Byrd, Cadrey, Cain, Caldwell, Campbell, Carbaugh, Carr, Carter, Castle, Cecil, Chance, Chasteen, Chess, Childress, Clark, Clendenin, Clendening, Cock, Cocke, Coley, Collins, Combs, Compton, Cowden, Cox, Craft, Craiger, Crawford, Creech, Cress, Crook, Cross, Crosse, Culbertson, Darnell, Darter, Daugherty, Davidson, Davis, Day, Dean, Dickenson, Dillon, Dingus, Dockery, Donaldson, Dooley, Dorton, Dougherty, Drape, Duffield, Dulaney, Duncan, Dungannon , Edens, Egan, Egans, Elam, Ernest, Estep, Estill, Evans, Ewing, Falin, Fields, Finch, Flanary, Flanery, Flannery, Fleenor, Ford, Fraley, Francisco, Franklin, Frazer, Frazier, Frederick, Fugate, Fulk, Fuller, Gadrey, George, Gibson, Gillam, Gilliam, Gilreath, Glass, Gobble, Godsey, Goode, Graham, Gray, Greear, Green, Greens, Greer, Grey, Griffin, Gulley, Hackney, Hagen, Haggy, Hagy, Hale, Hall, Hallix, Hamilton, Hamminds, Hammond, Hammonds, Hanchelle, Hardin, Harrell, Harrion, Harris, Hartsock, Hawkins, Haynes, Hays, Head, Henry, Hensley, Heron, Herren, Herron, Hickam, Hicks, Hill, Hillman, Hobbs, Honeycutt, Hood, Hopkins, Horn, Horton, Houseman, Howington, Huff, Humes, Hutchins, Hutchinson, Insinger, Isaac, Isaacs, Jenkins, Jennings, Jett, Johnson, Johnston, Jones, Kane, Kellion, Ketron, Kilgore, Killion, Kindle, Lane, Large, Larkey, Larkins, Lawson, Lea, Lewis, Lovell, Lucas, Lyons, Maddox, Maddux, Malicoat, Mann, Marcum, Marrs, Mason, Matticks, Mayo, McClure, McCracken, McDavid, McGuire, McMullin, McMurry, McNew, McNutt, Mendenhall, Merritt, Miller, Montieth, Moore, Morell, Morrison, Moseley, Moss, Mullings, Mullins, Myers, Neal, Neeley, Neely, Neil, Neill, Nelson, Newberry, Nickels, Niel, Niell, Orr, Osborn, Osborne, Owens, Page, Pannell, Patterson, Payne, Pendleton, Pennington, Persinger, Peters, Pierce, Pierson, Poston, Powers, Presely, Presley, Price, Purcell, Qualls, Quillin, Rainey, Ramey, Ratliff, Reasor, Reed, Reeve, Renfroe, Rhodes, Rhoten, Rhoton, Richards, Richmond, Riley, Roach, Robbins, Roberts, Robinette, Robinson, Roe, Roller, Rose, Ruth, Salling, Salyers, Sauders, Scalf, School, Scott, Shepard, Shoemaker, Shorte, Slagle, Sloan, Sluss, Smith, Snodgrass, Southers, Spear, Spears, Speer, Sprinkle, Sproles, Stacy, Stallard, Stanly, Stapleton, Starnes, Stephenson, Stewart, Stinson, Stone, Sturgill, Sulfridge, Sullivan, Tarter, Tate, Taylor, Templeton, Thomas, Thompson, Tipton, Tomlinson, Treadway, Tredaway, Tredway, Twoer, VanNess, Vansant, Vanzant, Vickers, Vinyards, Wade, Walker, Wallen, Waters, Webb, Wells, White, Williams, Willis, Wilson, Wininger, Wolf, Wolfe, Wood, Wright, Yost

comments powered by Disqus