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Genealogical Research

An overview of resources available at Swem Library for Genealogists along with ideas for other places to conduct research in the area.

What Are Vital Records?

Although few of these records survive, laws requiring the recording of births and deaths were enacted in Virginia as early as 1632. The responsibility for collecting these records rested with the established church--the Anglican Church. Vital statistics of church members were recorded in local parish registers, but few of these are extant, and those that survived have been published. Other denominations were not required to record vital statistics, and the types of records kept and the information varies. Following the American Revolution (and the disestablishment of the Anglican Church), record keeping fell more and more to the individual families.        

In 1853, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law requiring the systematic statewide recording of births and deaths. The clerk of the court in each locality maintained these records (although there was understandable interruption and loss during the Civil War). This law was repealed in 1896, and the record keeping was halted until it began again in June 1912. 

Marriage records were generally kept by the individual counties or cities, prior to 1853. Very few Virginia marriage records before 1715 survive, and most counties have incomplete marriage records prior to the Revolutionary War. Ministers’ returns were required by law beginning in 1780, so all marriages from that date would be on record in the county court clerk’s office. In 1853, statewide registration of marriages was required, but while these registers exist for all counties, they may be incomplete, especially during the Civil War.

The Library of Virginia has many useful guides to using finding and using these types of records:

“Using Vital Statistics Records in the Archives of the Library of Virginia”
“Using County and City Court Records”

Virginia Vital Records

All of these books are available in the Reference-Virginia collection, but we might have additional copies in the general collection upstairs. Check the links for information.

Guides for Finding More Virginia Records

Many of these books contain outdated contact information, but they will give you a place to start.

Local Records

There are many more of these types of records listed on the SCRC portion of this guide.

Church Records:

Cedar Grove Cemetery: