Virginia Memory – Don’t Miss This Site

by Carolyn L. Barkley

We all can name favorite websites to which we return repeatedly in the course of our research. Virginia Memory is one of my favorites – and not just because I live in Virginia! If you are one of the numerous researchers whose ancestral trail extends back through the decades and centuries to Virginia, I predict that this site will become one of your favorites as well – definitely worth book-marking on your computer.

The Library of Virginia (formerly the Virginia State Library and Archives) has a venerable history, beginning in 1823. In the mid-1990s, the institution became a leader in providing access to digital collections over the Internet. In 2006, library staff “came to the conclusion that our traditional Web site could no longer deliver effectively our online content; promote our services to educators, the public and government employees; guide users through our collections; and accommodate new and exciting digital materials created by the archivists, librarians, educators, and historians on our staff. We realized that increasingly our users would visit us virtually, rather than physically, and their expectations for their online visits would be influenced by and change according to the Web technologies on other sites they use every day for work, research, and entertainment.” The Library’s tudy and planning efforst resulted in the 2009 launch of Virginia Memory, a gateway to a rich array of digital collections.

Virginia Memory features four main components:

(1) Digital Collections provides access to collections of images through the Library’s online catalog, as well as through partnership programs with the Library of Congress and Archive-It. While you can view an A-to-Z list of all collections, it is more efficient to look at the topical list where the collections are arranged in several broad categories: Virginia history and culture, biography and genealogy, maps and architecture, county and city research, African American research, military service, newspapers, history of Virginia government, web archiving, photograph collections, and land office patents and grants. My quick look into these categories turned up a collection of over 3,000 photographs from the Virginia Room in the Court of States area of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, and the S. Bassett French biographical sketches collection created between 1890 and 1897, in which I located sixteen Barclay entries. When viewing thumbnails of the photographs, I learned that I could email an image to myself (or to someone else), save it to my hard drive, or create an “eshelf” in which I could view, access and manage the images I selected during my research. Please note that if you are not registered on the site, these images will not be saved after you exit. Be sure to read the eshelf help screen for specific details.

Other digital collections include the Alan M. Voorhees map collection, with sixty-seven images dating from as early as 1493 and continuing through the American Civil War, and images of the World War I History   Commission questionnaires, that were completed by returning soldiers or their families. In the latter, I located the questionnaire of Clyde Franklin Barkley of Abingdon, Virginia, which provided his place and date of birth, his mother and father’s name, his residence before the war, his fraternal organization memberships, his war service and medical records, and more. These questionnaires, if paired with World War I draft registration cards, will provide remarkable insights into an individual soldier’s experiences in the “Great War.” Also of importance is the Virginia Digital Newspaper Project, a part of the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America site. This impressive project will complete the digitization of 300,000 pages of Virginia newspapers published between 1860 and 1922 by the end of 2010.  Finally, be sure to check out the “What’s New” and “Featured Collections” sections for continually updated information.

(2) Reading Room includes four intriguing areas to explore:

  • This Day in Virginia History offers an image of a document, image or sound file for each day of the year. For example, the image for August 6th, the date of this article’s posting, illustrates downtown Danville, Virginia, in 1946 on the occasion of a primary election involving Harry Floyd Byrd, who was then seeking to be the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.
  • Virginia Chronology presents a detailed chronology of Virginia history spanning from 15,000 B.C. to approximately 2005 A.D. Detailed information is available by clicking on specific eras or individual events. If your ancestor lived in Virginia, this section will be very helpful in determining what was occurring in the commonwealth at the time of his or her residency.
  • Virginiana shares an eclectic collection of short vignettes and stories discovered by Library of Virginia archivists as they preserve, arrange and study materials within the library’s archival collections. Some of my favorites include “CSI: Old Virginia” Scenes of Murder and Mayhem in the Local Government Records Collection,” and the story of “Presley Neville O’Bannon and the Marine Corps Sword.”
  • Out of the Box provides an opportunity for archival staff to discuss their ongoing work in prserving and conserving the documents that are in their care. Their insights and discoveries are presented in a blog format providing you, the reader, with an opportunity to comment. A new entry is provided each week.

(3) Exhibitions. This section of Virginia Memory makes Library exhibits accessible to individuals who live far from Richmond. Currently, the featured exhibit is entitled “The Land We Live In, the Land We Left,” which runs at the Library through the end of October 2010 and features information and images about Virginia’s inhabitants from the earliest times to the present, with an emphasis on the various immigrant groups who left their mark on the commonwealth. Past exhibits are archived in this area including “Poe: Man, Myth or Monster,” “Working Out Her Destiny: Women’s History in Virginia,” and “Myth and Memory: Understanding 400 Years of Virginia History.” You can search Exhibitions either chronologically or by subject.

(4) Online Classroom is intended for an educational audience. Teachers will find ideas on how to use primary documents in the classroom as well as lesson plans in specific subject areas.

Virginia Memory is an exceptional site and is an essential research tool for anyone researching Virginia ancestors. Visit it often as content is being added continually.

If this article has whetted your appetite for Virginia research, you will also want to consult (and own!) the following titles which are among the many Virginia titles available at

Early Virginia Immigrants, 1623-1666 by George C. Greer (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008).

English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records by Louis des Cognets Jr. (Clearfield, 2008).

Gleanings of Virginia History: An Historical and Genealogical Collection, Largely from Original Sources by William Fletcher Boogher (Clearfield, 2007).

Virginia Genealogy: Sources and Resources by Carol McGinnis (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008).

Virginia Historical Genealogies by John Bennett Boddie (Clearfield, 2008).

Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary by Martha W. McCartney (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007).

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