Virginia History and Research Overview

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Jamestown is often overshadowed by Plymouth Colony when it comes to the founding of the United States. Jamestown was founded in 1607, making it the second-oldest community in the United States (to St. Augustine, Fla.), but the first permanent English settlement. Unlike St. Augustine and Plymouth, however, Jamestown almost didn’t survive its first five years. It took John Rolfe’s experiments with tobacco, especially his exportation of it to London, to make Virginia — named after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I — economically sustaining.

Early colonization of Virginia was encouraged through the use of headright grants, a method of giving public land — 50 acres — to anyone who paid his own way to the new colony. These individuals could earn additional lots of 50 acres per individual for whom they paid passage. The original territory called Virginia was enormous and was eventually was carved up to form the following:

  • 1779: a section became part of North Carolina
  • 1786: a section became part of Pennsylvania
  • 1792: a section became Kentucky and another became a part of Maryland
  • 1803: a section became part of Tennessee and another area became Ohio and Indiana Territory
  • 1816: a former part became Indiana
  • 1818: a former part became Illinois
  • 1863: a former part became West Virginia

Some divisions were enacted to settle border disputes. In the case of the Midwest states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, the land (known then as the Northwest Territory) was ceded to the United States when Virginia ratified the Constitution and became a state. Finally, West Virginia’s counties broke away from Virginia because of their support of the Union during the Civil War.

(click to enlarge)
Virginia state map with county outlines


  • When researching colonial ancestors, records such as tithables lists and quitrent rolls help to establish the head of the household. Tithables were essentially head counts. Those considered tithable changed over the years from every male above age 16 to all males, nonwhite females, and wives of free nonwhite males. Quitrents were annual rents paid to the crown or to the proprietor who had granted a person his land. Many tithables and quitrents have been published.
  • Virginia has 41 independent cities that keep their own records, though they reside within a county. In some instances, the county was absorbed by an independent city. Before spending a lot of time digging in county records, verify whether your ancestor lived in one of these cities (indicated in the Virginia county listings). Also visit the Virginia USGenWeb site and view the county links. Links to the independent cities are with the counties.


  • Federal census: 1810, 1820, 1830. 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Tax lists: 1782-1785


  • Adventurers Of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5 by Annie Lash Jester and Martha Woodruff Hiden (Order of the First Families of Virginia, 1987)
  • Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800 by Lewis Preston Summers (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996)
  • Biographical Sketches of Virginia by S. Bassett French (Virginia State Library, 1942)
  • Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts Preserved in the Capitol, 3 vols., edited by William P. Palmer (1875-1883)
  • A Calendar of the Warrants for Land in Kentucky, Granted for Service in the French and Indian War by Philip F. Taylor (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967)
  • The Colonial Church in Virginia by Edward L. Goodwin (Morehouse Pub., 1927)
  • Early Virginia Families Along the James River, 2 vols., by Louise Pledge Heath Foley (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990)
  • Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, 5 vols., by Lyn Gardiner Tyler (Lewis Historical Publishing, 1915)
  • English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records compiled by Louis Des Cognet Jr. (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981)
  • Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, 6 vols., (Virginia State Library, 1966-1978)
  • Genealogies of Virginia Families: From Tyler’s Quarterly, 4 vols., (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981)
  • Genealogies of Virginia Families: From the William and Mary College Quarterly, 5 vols., (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982)
  • A Guide to Church Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library by Jewell T. Clark and Elizabeth Terry Long (Virginia State Library, 1981)
  • A Guide to Episcopal Church Records in Virginia by Edith F. Axelson (Iberian Publishing, 1988)
  • A Guide to Genealogical Notes and Charts in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library compiled by Lyndon H. Hart (Virginia State Library, 1983)
  • A Guide to State Records in the Archives Branch compiled by John S. Salmon (Virginia State Library, 1985)
  • History of Virginia, 6 vols., (American Historical Society, 1924)
  • The Hornbook of Virginia History, 4th edition, by Emily J. Salmon and Edward D.C. Campbell (Library of Virginia, 1994)
  • Index to Printed Virginia Genealogies by Robert Armistead Stewart (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970)
  • Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia, 5 vols., (Virginia State Library, 1931-1982)
  • A Key to Survey Reports and Microfilm of the Virginia Colonial Records Project (Virginia State Library and Archives, 1990)
  • Men of Mark in Virginia, 5 vols. (Men of Mark Publishing Co., 1906-09)
  • Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, 1857 by William Meade (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1966)
  • A Preliminary Guide to Pre-1904 Municipal Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library and Archives by Lyndon H. Hart and Suzanne Smith Ray (Library and Archives, ca. 1988)
  • Research in Virginia by Eric Grundset (National Genealogical Society, 1998)
  • Sketches of Virginia: Historical and Biographical, 2 vols., by William Henry Foote (William S. Marten, 1850-56)
  • Some Peculiarities of Genealogical Research in Virginia: Colonial by Annie Lash Jester (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1969)
  • Some Peculiarities of Genealogical Research in Virginia: Post-Revolutionary by Virginia Pope Livingston (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1969)
  • Some Prominent Virginia Families, 4 vols., by Louise Pecquet du Bellet (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976)
  • State Slavery Statutes: Guide to the Microfiche Collection by Paul Finkelman (University Publications of America, 1989)
  • 3rd Burned County Data 1809-1848: As Found in the Virginia Contested Elected Files by Benjamin B. Weisiger (Benjamin B. Weisiger, 1986)
  • 3rd Guide to Bible Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library by Lyndon H. Hart (Virginia State Library and Archives, 1985)
  • Timesaving Aid to Virginia-West Virginia Ancestors, 4 vols., by Patrick G. Wardell (Iberian Publishing Co., 1985-1990)
  • The Virginia Battles and Leaders Series by H.E. Howard (H.E. Howard, 1984)
  • Virginia Colonial Abstracts, 34 vols., by Beverley Fleet (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988)
  • Virginia Genealogical Research by George K. Schweitzer (George K. Schweitzer, 1982)
  • Virginia Genealogical Resources by Robert Young Clay (Detroit Society of Genealogical Research, 1980)
  • Virginia Genealogies: A Trial List of Printed Books and Pamphlets, 2 vols., by Stuart E. Brown Jr. (Virginia Book, 1967, 1980)
  • Virginia Genealogy: A Guide to Resources in the University of Virginia Library (University Press of Virginia, 1983)
  • Virginia Historical Index, 2 vols., by Earl Gregg Swen (Peter Smith, 1965)
  • Virginia in the 1600’s: An Index to Who Was There! — and Where! compiled and edited by Harold Oliver (D&H Publishing Co., 1992)
  • Virginia Local History: A Bibliography (Virginia State Library, 1971)
  • Virginia: The New Dominion by Virginius Dabney (University Press of Virginia, 1971)
  • Virginia Newspapers 1821-1935: A Bibliography with Historical Introductions and Notes by Lester J. Cappon (D. Appleton Century, 1936)
  • Virginia Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Virginia and Virginians, 2 vols., by Robert Alonzo Brock (H.H. Hardesty, 1888)
  • Virginians and West Virginians, 1607-1870, 3 vols., by Patrick G. Wardell (Heritage Books, 1986-1992)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.