About the Henley Marriage/Obituary Index

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Bernard J. Henley (1909-1989) served as a reference librarian for more than thirty-seven years at the City of Richmond Public Library. After he retired in 1967, he began a systematic examination of more than 150 Richmond-area and other Virginia newspapers, selectively indexing and compiling abstracts of the marriage and obituary notices he found. He recorded each entry by hand, on ruled notebook paper, in chronological order by newspaper. In addition, the database includes entries from a detailed index-card file relating to marriages, obituaries, and other topics gathered by Mr. Henley from Richmond and other Virginia newspapers. The period covered by the combined files ranges from 1736 through 1982, with the major emphasis on the years 1780 to 1910.

Each record includes the newspaper title, publication date, the full text or an abstract of the notice, and the location (city or county) of the newspaper. Many of the entries also include personal names and specific place names. For most of the newspapers, microfilm copies are available at the Library of Virginia. Whenever possible, the Library's microfilm number for the particular newspaper is also included in the database record.

It is important to note that this database represents only one aspect of Mr. Henley's extensive work with Virginia newspapers. His detailed research notes and other materials were donated to the Library of Virginia and are housed in the archives.

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Search Tips

Punctuation and capitalization are disregarded. Entries in this database are arranged in letter-by-letter alphabetical order. In addition to the regular searches, you may click on any highlighted element of a database record (such as a title) to initiate a search on that element. 

Each entry in the Henley database consists of:

Newspaper Titles

The title of the newspaper is the authorized, catalog-entry form of the name. This title may not correspond exactly with what appeared on the masthead of the paper; often, there will be information added by the cataloger, such as place of publication or a date.

When more than one newspaper has the same title (as was often the case with early Virginia papers), a qualifier in parentheses is added to one or more of the titles in order to distinguish them. Usually this qualifier consists of the place of publication, and often the beginning date of publication, when known.

For example, these are the catalog-entry forms for two different newspapers:

Newspaper titles are not keyword-indexed in this database. If they were, these dates in the qualifiers would contribute to inaccurate and misleading search results for searches that include dates.

To search for specific newspaper titles, you can do a Browse search (choosing "Name of newspaper begins with...") under the first word of the newspaper title (leave out any leading articles such as "the"). This will give you an alphabetical listing that will then lead you to all records in the database for each newspaper. (The listing will also include postings for Entries that match the Title/Entry Search.)

If you are not sure which newspaper in a particular place a marriage notice or obituary may have appeared in, a more useful search might be a Basic (keyword) search, using the city or county name in which the newspapers were published.  See Place Names below for more information about searching by place.

Dates of Coverage

The dates appearing in parentheses in some newspaper titles are not the same as the dates of the papers indexed in the database. These are only the earliest-known dates of publication of those papers.

For instance, the date in the qualifier for the Wheeling gazette is 1824:

but the only dates covered by Henley in this database from the Wheeling gazette are from January 16, 1830 to December 25, 1830.


The "entry" portion of the record (labeled in the catalog display as Title) is where most of the information resides. This is the actual text and information that Henley transcribed or abstracted from the newspaper.

Here are some examples of entries:

Each word in each entry is keyword-indexed. If you do a basic (keyword) search or an Advanced search, you will retrieve all records with those words in the entry. The entry is the only portion of the record that contains personal names. Place names also appear in some entries, often for other states or locales (as can be seen from the examples).

Most of the entries in the database begin with either the word "Married" or the word "Died." If you are only interested in one or the other, you could use either of these words in combination with other terms in a keyword search. Note, however, that many entries for marriages or obituaries do not start with or include one of these words. A more complete way to narrow your search by type of entry (marriage or death) is to do an Advanced search using "marriage" or "death" as a subject keyword for one of the search types.

The numbers in parentheses at the end of each entry are Henley's citations referring to the page and column of the newspaper in which the entry appeared.

Searching for Dates

Searchable dates can appear in two places in the record: in the entry, or in the date of publication field. The date of publication is the date of the newspaper containing the entry, and is always given in the form "day of week, month and date, year" (for example, "Friday, November 23, 1840"). The month is always spelled out in full.

If a date appears in the entry, however, it alludes to the date the event occurred, which is usually not the same date as the date of publication. The month may or not be abbreviated, depending on how Henley transcribed it. (The same is true for the day of the week.) Here is an example:

Entry: Married- -At Edge Hill, on Nov. 19, by Rev. Har--, Hugh B. Grigsby, former editor of the Norfolk Beacon, to Miss Mary Venable, ... [etc.]
Date of Pub.: Friday, November 27, 1840.

When you do a Basic (keyword) search, dates in both of these fields (the entry and the date of publication) are retrieved.  For more accurate results, if you do a keyword search on "december 12 1801," be sure and check "Yes" for Words Adjacent.  You can also do a keyword search on "december 1801," which retrieves all records with "december" and "1801" in any of the keyword-indexed fields. (Remember that the date in parentheses after a newspaper title is only a qualifier and is not keyword-indexed; see the explanation of Dates of Coverage above.)

It is probably a good idea to keep the date portion of the search relatively broad, anyway. Events were often listed in the paper weeks or even months after they occured. If you are fairly certain an event took place in a particular month, or even if you know the exact date, it still is best to search at least two months after the month of the event. If the event took place toward the end of the year, and you know the exact year, try also searching in the papers of January or February of the following year.

Example of date search:

Subject Headings  

There are two kinds of subject headings assigned to records in this database:

General Subject Headings  

One general subject term, taken from the Library of Congress Subject Headings, is assigned to each record. Almost all of the records have one of the following subjects:

These subject headings can be used to narrow your search in keyword searches, if you only want to search one type of entry. Most entries begin with the words "Married" or "Died," but these terms are not consistently applied. Using one of the subject terms could retrieve a more complete set of records.

Place Names (Geographical Subject Headings)

Searchable place names can appear in two different parts of the record: in the entry, or as a subject heading.

The place name in the subject heading is the standardized form of the name of the city or county in which the newspaper was published. The geographical subject heading for the Petersburg republican, then, is "Petersburg (Va.)." Regardless of the general geographic area a newspaper may cover, the only place name appearing in the subject field of the record will be the place of publication. The Norfolk gazette and publick ledger may cover events in the greater Tidewater area, but its only geographical subject heading is "Norfolk (Va.)."

The subject heading place name can be used to qualify a search on other elements such as personal name or date. In some cases, the subject heading may be the only part of the record containing a place name at all. Note also that every subject in the database has either "Virginia" or "Va." in it, and thus these terms would not be useful search terms since they would simply retrieve every single record.

Place names in entries are not restricted to the place of publication of the newspaper, or indeed to the state of Virginia:

However, often entries contain no place name at all, or simply refer to the place as "this city," as in the following examples:

Remember that the subject heading could be the only field of the record where a place name occurs. We recommend searching for place names as general keywords, and using subject headings if it is necessary to narrow or qualify your search.

For more detailed help with searching, click on the "Help" link on the main search screen and scroll down to "Search Functions" and "Search Tips."

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