About the Virginia Historical Inventory
The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) is a collection of photographs, maps, and detailed reports documenting the architectural, cultural, and family histories of thousands of 18th- and 19th-century buildings in communities across Virginia. Workers for the Virginia Historical Inventory documented, assessed, and photographed early structures (many of which do not survive today), creating a pictorial and textual prism through which architects, genealogists, economists, social historians, journalists, researchers, and the general public can study a unique record of Virginia's past.
The collection consists of more than 19,300 survey reports (consisting of approximately 70,000 pages), more than 6,200 photographs, and 103 annotated county and city maps. The project was created in the late 1930s by the Virginia Writers' Project, a branch of the federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA). Using a standard format, the field-workers for the VHI prepared survey reports on each structure, with extensive details taken from onsite investigation, research in court records and other local resources, and personal interviews with county residents. The reports include such information as descriptions of the buildings and their surroundings, the history of the building, chronological lists of owners, architectural features, and historical significance. For most buildings, field-workers completed a standardized "architectural description" form, giving extensive architectural details such as size, type of building material, layout, and distinctive features. Field-workers often added pencil or pen-and-ink sketches to their reports. In addition, they often included photographs of the buildings they documented.
Unlike the more well-known Historic American Buildings Survey, which documents prominent historical structures, the VHI was specifically charged with describing the vernacular architecture and history of everyday buildings built before 1860: homes, workplaces, churches, public buildings. This aspect of the project makes the existence of photographs that much more valuable (and poignant): many of these structures no longer exist, and the VHI photographs may be the only extant visual records of them.
VHI writers did not restrict their reports to structures, however. There are also reports on cemeteries (often including detailed tombstone information), antiques, historical events, and personages, as well as transcriptions of land grants, wills, deeds, diaries, and correspondence.
Once the field reports were submitted to Richmond or to a regional office, they were revised, edited, and typed. The final typescript versions, typically four to five pages long, were then filed alphabetically by county, with any accompanying photographs attached. It is these typescript reports that have been digitized for this online version; very few examples of the original handwritten field reports survive. Reports were also logged in "roll books," spiral notebooks arranged by county and listing each report by writer and subject.
The Virginia Writers' Project office in Richmond took the further step of annotating county and city maps, primarily ones published by the Virginia Department of Transportation in 1936, by adding numbers in red ink indicating the locations of documented structures, with the map number stamped on the corresponding report.
For more detail about the original VHI project, see "Foundations of the Past: The WPA Historical Inventory Project in Virginia", an article by Edward D. C. Campbell Jr. and Stacey Gibbons Moore, which originally appeared in the Spring 1994 issue of the Library's quarterly illustrated magazine, Virginia Cavalcade.
The Library of Virginia received the files of the VHI, along with other Virginia WPA sources, in 1950. Sometime thereafter, the Library separated the photographs from the typescript reports and interfiled them by subject into the Photograph Collection. In the 1970s the reports, arranged alphabetically by county, were microfilmed and cataloged (at the collection level only). In 1997, the Library and its Digital Library Program (DLP) received a $270,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to catalog and digitize the collection. With this online presentation, the DLP has digitized from microfilm all of the survey reports, scanned from the original prints all of the photographs, and prepared full-level cataloging records for each of the reports and photographs. In cooperation with VTLS, Inc., the Library has also developed an interactive digital interface for the maps. Finally, the DLP has then collected together within one interface (the "Report Home Page") links to all the material available for a specific report.
The VHI digital project makes it possible for a user to search the survey report database, view the image of the report, then retrieve the corresponding map and the photograph. Or, the researcher may search the map interface to find a specific geographical location, and then review the specific survey report for that site. Or, a researcher may search the photographs and retrieve the corresponding survey report and map to provide a context for each image. An additional feature makes it possible for a researcher to choose a particular locality, then view the locations and reports for categories of structures, such as churches, dwellings, taverns, school buildings, cemeteries, commercial buildings, bridges, and historic sites.
While the primary objective is to increase the public's access to this rare collection, the Mellon Foundation grant is allowing the Library to create a model for comparing the costs of storing and accessing the collection in traditional media and digital format. The Library will evaluate the use and acceptability of digital and printed versions of the VHI reports and will test the long-term economic viability of maintaining and serving these digital collections. The findings of this evaluation will be shared with other organizations contemplating digitization of collections.
The goal of the Library of Virginia's Digital Library Program has been to present the entire VHI collection online in one place, in a coherent and easily searchable manner, and as it was originally organized. The information, therefore, has not been updated, with one exception: in the catalog records, place names (in subject headings only) have been updated. For example, there are reports and two maps for Elizabeth City County, which in 1952 (long after the VHI project ended) was incorporated into the city of Hampton. The maps are still presented as Elizabeth City County maps, and if the name of the county appears in a report title or in a quoted note, it has not been changed; it was, after all, accurate at the time of the project. However, the authorized subject headings for the reports for Elizabeth City County use Hampton, the updated, most current form of the name.
In the interest of historical presentation and completeness, all photographs associated with the project are included without cosmetic changes. For the most part the photos are amateur snapshots, and many of them are blurred and unfocused. Many have large unexposed areas, or portions of them are obscured by the photographer's hand (or thumb). The photographs are presented as they are, blemishes and all. As the negatives no longer exist for the vast majority of the photos, the Library scanned the original prints. In the process of gathering all the material for this project, the Library also discovered many VHI negatives that to the best of our knowledge had never been printed--perhaps they were rejects or alternates, or had simply not yet been associated with a report when the project ended. After weeding out definite duplicates, these photographs have been printed, scanned, and cataloged as well. For almost all of these additional photos, the building is unidentified; the photographers and the counties in which the pictures were taken, however, are identified.
In the same spirit of historical presentation, the location of every annotated dot on the maps has not been verified for accuracy. If a location given in a report is clearly not the same as that of the corresponding number on a map, a note to that effect is included in the catalog record. Most of the maps used in the original project were 1936 Virginia Department of Transportation maps and, of course, have long been outdated. The interactive digital map interface expressly created to access the detailed information captured on the maps is a recreation of the original material, not an update. In addition to the new map interface, digitized images of the original project maps are also presented.
The original maps were not perfect. Map numbers are sometimes repeated, or locations sometimes have multiple, conflicting numbers assigned to them. Moreover, the Library's collection of VHI maps may not be complete. In addition, for every map, there are map numbers that lack corresponding reports. Conversely, for every county, there are reports with map numbers that do not appear on the map. When this occurs, it is noted in the catalog record. Also, many numbers that are designated as county map numbers on the reports actually appear on city or town maps; again, these occurrences are noted in the catalog records.
Note also that not every Virginia county or city was documented, and not every one that was documented has a corresponding map. See the map table for a list of all the counties and cities included in the VHI project.
Microfilm scanningRelated Resources
There are 29 reels of microfilm containing the survey reports for each county, arranged in alphabetical order by locality. Each reel contains reports from a range of one to seven counties. The existing project microfilm was in excellent condition. The documents were of uniform size and of consistent density and reduction ratios. The archival copy of the microfilm was not beset with the most common problems encountered with microfilm scanning, such as skewed images, scratches, gutter shadows, or splices. The uniformity of the images reduced the frequency of manual intervention necessary to change scanning settings for such factors as reduction ratios, thresholds, or cropping. The microfilm was extensively analyzed before digitization to prepare for image file-naming structures for later linking to the catalog records, particularly taking into account targets and offsets. The most appropriate lossless compression technique for the digital masters, the ITU T.6 (Group 4) standard, was used.
The VHI microfilm was scanned using a SunRise Proscan IV digital microfilm scanner configured for roll film. The operator first placed the reel on a hand-cranked rewind station to check for any image inconsistencies in the microfilm. Silver microfilm is highly impressionable and very easily scratched. Therefore, it was preferable to reduce the frequency of handling and unnecessary exposures to the scanning equipment.
The operator then placed the film on the digital scanner to complete the first step in pre-processing. During this set-up stage, the operator determined the correct reduction ratio, the correct parameters for the resolution, and the appropriate lighting. Also decided were whether a variable-length imaging or a fixed-length imaging process was appropriate. The operator also set up document-edge detection and performed contrast and enhancement of the image at this stage, usually at a one-to-one pixel ratio. Because two VHI report pages appeared side by side on each frame of the microfilm, the operator used an advanced processing option to split the resulting image into two separate image files in .tif format, one for each page. During this stage of processing, the operator also applied image cropping and skew detection processes to the batch scanning program's task sequence.
After the operator completed the set-up procedure, the automatic batch scanning program was initiated, processing each reel in one pass. After this program finished, each image was examined frame by frame. Approximately 5,000 images were rescanned manually from the original reports. Many of these rescans were of report pages containing hand-drawn maps or plats. In addition, almost 700 new pages found to be missing from the microfilm were scanned. After each reel was completely scanned, the .tif images were "burned" to CD-ROMs and mounted on the image server.
The photographs were scanned from the original prints using either a Kodak DCS 460 digital camera, an AGFA Arcus II flatbed scanner, or a UMAX Mirage IIse flatbed scanner. They were scanned at 300 dpi in grayscale or color and saved in grayscale as .tif images. Minimal post-scanning processing (primarily cropping, resizing to 8" x 10" format, image rotation, and image resolution) was performed using Adobe Photoshop. The images were "burned" to CD-ROM and mounted on the image server; .JPEG images and thumbnail images were derived from the .tif images for Internet display.
Over the years, the Library made prints from many of the original VHI photographs for researchers. In these cases, a copy of the print was kept with the collection. If multiple prints existed for a photograph, the original VHI photograph was the only one cataloged, but the iteration used for digitizing was chosen based on clarity, resolution, detail, condition, and size.
Map scanning and linking
There are 103 maps associated with the project: 83 county maps and 20 city/town maps. The original WPA staff annotated each of these maps with map numbers, lines, and dots. The dots showed the location of the structures and sites represented in the survey reports; the map numbers for each dot were also stamped on the corresponding survey reports. In conjunction with VTLS, Inc., the Digital Library Program also developed an interface that required scanning original, unannotated versions of the maps. Eighty of the maps were Virginia Department of Transportation maps published in 1936; pristine copies of these exist in the Library's collection. Clean copies of three of the county maps and all twenty of the city/town maps were not found (many of the annotated city/town maps were in fact manuscript maps). VTLS, using Photoshop, was able to "erase" the lines, circles, and dots from most of the digital images for those maps to obtain a "clean" version for the interface.
Both the annotated maps and the 80 unannotated Department of Transportation maps were scanned using a Phase One 4 x 5 digital camera back, with a vacuum board and tungsten lights. For production purposes, a double set of full-size inkjet prints was made using a Tangent 24-x-36 inch flatbed scanner (FB 600-36) and an HP Design Jet 755 CM inkjet printer.
The interactive digital map interface was developed by VTLS using LizardTech's MrSID compression software. VTLS identified the x and y coordinates for each of the report locations on the maps. A custom data-entry interface then allowed operators to "zoom in" on specific map locations to plot the coordinates more accurately. These coordinates were then linked to Excel spreadsheets containing the survey report numbers, the unique map identifiers, the map numbers, and the category of the structure represented by the numbers. These were in turn used to link the map locations with the "Report Home Page" for the corresponding reports. The "Report Home Page" is linked via the MARC 856 field to the corresponding catalog records.
Campbell, Jr., Edward D.
C., and Stacey Gibbons Moore. "Foundations
of the Past: The WPA Historical Inventory Project in Virginia".
Virginia Cavalcade 43 (spring 1994): 178-191.
WPA Life Histories Collection: an article from the Digital Library Program of the Library of Virginia that gives detailed information about WPA projects in Virginia, including the Virginia Writers' Project.
The primary material of the original WPA Virginia Historical Inventory consists of survey reports, photographs, and maps. The focal point of the digitized version of the VHI project is the Report Home Page. For every survey report there is a Report Home Page that contains links to all of the material pertaining to that report: digitized images of each page of the report, digitized images of the accompanying photographs if present, the report subject's location on a county or city map if applicable, and online catalog records for the report and any photographs.
The Report Home Page can be reached in two ways:
- by searching the database, finding a catalog record, and following the link to the Report Home Page, or
- by choosing a map for a county/city, choosing a location on the Map Interface, and following the link to the Report Home Page.
Punctuation and capitalization are disregarded. Entries in this database are arranged in letter-by-letter alphabetical order. In addition to regular searches, you may click on any highlighted element of a database record (such as a subject) to initiate a search on that element.
There are two kinds of catalog records in the VHI database: records for the survey reports and records for the accompanying photographs.
Survey report records
Each survey report record in the VHI database consists of:
- the author of the survey report, names of informants, and the names of organizations associated with the report
- the title and date of report
- the map location number of the subject of the report (if present)
- notes describing the subject of the report
- subject headings
- record number
- a link to the Report Home Page
Survey report authors, photographers, and informants in the database are in the form of last name followed by first name. A Browse search on the Author index retrieves records in a browsable alphabetical listing by name, beginning with the word or words used in the search.
A Browse search on the author "rombold c h" retrieves an alphabetical listing beginning with the names:
- Rombold, C. H.
- Rondabush, D. F., Mrs.
- Ronk. Lucy
- Rools, Luther
Note that names in the listing that end with a period are names of survey report authors, while names ending with commas are names of either photographers or informants. If a person is both a report author and photographer, their name will appear twice in the listing.
A Basic (keyword) search or an Advanced search retrieves only the records that contain the exact words specified in the search argument, while a Browse search retrieves a browsable list of all the authors and photographers in the database.
Other names besides the names of those responsible for the content of the report may appear in the catalog record: names of builders, owners, people associated with the subject of the report, etc. These names appear either in notes or in subject headings and are keyword-searchable.
The following names of organizations associated with the VHI appear in every record and should not be used as the basis for a search:
- Virginia Historical Inventory Project.
- Virginia Conservation Commission. Division of History.
- United States. Works Progress Administration.
A Browse search on the Title index retrieves records in a browsable alphabetical listing by report or photograph title, beginning with the word or words used in the search. For survey reports, the date of the report also appears here. The title of the survey report is taken from the report title page and may not necessarily reflect all of the subject matter of the report.
Many of the survey reports were given map numbers, which were stamped on the report title page and also handwritten, with a prefix for the county, on all subsequent pages. These numbers were then used to plot the locations on the county or city maps.
To search by map number, use a Basic (keyword) search with the "Words Anywhere" option. Formulate the map number with the county prefix and the number, in this form:
Each survey report contains several extensive notes describing the subject of the report. All of the information in these notes is keyword searchable using Basic or Advanced searches.
Several of these notes use standardized phrases that can be useful in keyword searches. Examples of standardized phrases:
- Building date
- Building material
- Class (the category assigned to the subject of the report by the field-worker)
- building material brick
- building material wood fluvanna
- owners francis
Notes also contain family names prominently described in the reports. For more on searching by family name, see here. Notes can cover everything from the floor plan of the structure, to its historical significance, to anecdotes about its owners.
Each survey report record contains several subject headings, usually for names and types of structures, places, or names of individuals or families featured in the report. A Browse search in the Subject index retrieves records in a browsable alphabetical listing by subject, beginning with the word or words used in the search. Words found within subject searches are also keyword searchable.
There are two kinds of subject headings used in survey report records in the VHI database: topical headings that indicate what the reports are about, and form/genre terms for things that are actually contained within the report itself (using terms from the Art and Architecture Thesaurus).
Examples of topical subject headings:
- Johnson family
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865
- Church buildings
- Dueling -- Virginia --Norfolk
Examples of form/genre subject headings:
- Deeds -- Virginia -- Alexandria.
Note: the genre/form subject heading "Surveys" appears in every record and should not be used as the basis of a search.
Record numbers were assigned sequentially to VHI reports, in the order they appear on the microfilm, by LVA staff at the time of digitization. In general, when they were microfilmed, reports were arranged alphabetically by county and then by category. There are 29 reels of microfilm, each reel having its own numerical sequence. An example of a record number is VHIR/27/0056. "VHIR" indicates that this is a report number (as opposed to VHIP, which indicates a photograph number); "27" indicates the reel number; "0056" indicates the report number within that reel. Consult the map table for a list of the reel number for each county present in the VHI.
To search by record number, do a Basic (keyword) search using "Words Anywhere" and checking "Yes" for Words Adjacent. Be sure to include the four-letter prefix VHIR, using the form VHIR [2-digit reel number] [4-digit record number]. Examples:
- vhir 26 0001
- vhir 14 0239
- vhir 06 0012
Each survey report record has a link to the Report Home Page for the survey report appearing at the top of the record display.
Each photograph record in the VHI database consists of:
- the photographer (if known)
- the title of the photograph
- the date the photograph was taken (if known)
- the map location number of the subject of the report (if present)
- notes describing the subject of the report
- subject headings
- record number
- a link to the photograph and to the Report Home Page
If the name of the photographer is known, it is included in the catalog record. Unlike the survey reports, which have a standard outline used as a formal title page which includes the name of the field-worker, the photographs have no such formal recording devices. The backs of the photographs often have names written on them; when this occurs, this name is presumed to be that of the photographer. When no such name appears, no photographer name is given in the record.
Photographers, survey report authors, and informants in the database are in the form of last name followed by first name. A Basic search in the Author index retrieves records in a browsable alphabetical listing by name, beginning with the word or words used in the search.
A Word or Phrase Author/Photographer Search on "smith essie w" retrieves an alphabetical listing beginning with the names:
- Smith, Essie W.
- Smith, Essie W., photographer
- Smith, Eugene, informant
- Smith, F. M., Mrs., informant
Note that names in the listing that end with a comma are names of either photographers or informants, while names ending with periods are names of survey report authors. If a person is both a report author and photographer, their name will appear twice in the listing, as in the above example.
A Basic (keyword) search or an Advanced search retrieves only the records that contain the exact words specified in the search argument, while a Browse search retrieves a browsable list of all the authors and photographers in the database.
The title of a photograph is generally taken from information handwritten on the back of the photograph. If no writing is present there, the title of the accompanying survey report is used for the photograph as well. The only titles supplied by catalogers are for those photographs that are not associated with particular reports. These titles appear in brackets.
The date the photograph was taken (if known) is recorded in the database record. Dates are keyword searchable. Note that in many cases dates are incomplete. Since so many VHI photographs were older ones taken before the VHI project began, photographs without dates were usually not assumed to have been taken in the 1930s.
If the accompanying survey report has a map location number, it is also given in the photograph record.
Information other than the title written on the back of the photograph is included as a keyword-searchable note in the catalog record. Several standardized phrases from the record for the accompanying survey report are included in the photograph record as well (in particular, Building date, Builder, and Building material). Generally, though, the context of the subjects of the photographs is provided by the accompanying survey reports and their catalog records (all available from the Report Home Page).
Each photograph record contains several subject headings, usually for names and types of structures, geographic places, or other objects prominently featured in the photograph. A Basic search in the Subject index retrieves records in a browsable alphabetical listing by subject, beginning with the word or words used in the search. Subject headings for photographs are interfiled with subject headings for survey reports. Words found within subject searches are also keyword searchable.
Since the controlled vocabulary subject thesaurus used for photographs is different from that used for survey reports, it is possible for the same concept to be expressed in different ways, with separate subject headings. For example, in survey reports, the term used to describe wooden buildings is "Wooden-frame buildings," whereas in photographs the term used is "Wooden buildings." All photograph subject headings have the accompanying phrase "Photographic prints," so that, for example, the subject heading for the survey report for a house is distinguished from the subject heading for the photograph:
- Oak Grove Cemetery (Portsmouth, Va.)
- Oak Grove Cemetery (Portsmouth, Va.) -- Photographic prints.
The form/genre subject term "Photographic prints" is also given to every photograph, so that a Browse search in the subject index on that term will list all the photographs in the VHI database, listed by location:
- Photographic prints -- Virginia -- Accomack County -- 1930-1940.
- Photographic prints -- Virginia -- Accomack County -- 1940-1950.
- Photographic prints -- Virginia -- Accomack County -- 20th century.
- Photographic prints -- Virginia -- Albemarle County -- 1930-1940.
- Photographic prints -- Virginia -- Albemarle County -- 20th century.
- Photographic prints -- Virginia -- Alexandria -- 20th century.
Record numbers were assigned sequentially to VHI photographs by LVA staff at the time of cataloging, in the order that their corresponding survey reports appear on the microfilm. In general, when they were microfilmed, reports were arranged alphabetically by county and then by category. There are 29 reels of microfilm, each reel having its own numerical sequence. An example of a record number is VHIP/14/0056. "VHIP" indicates that this is a photograph number (as opposed to VHIR, which indicates a survey report number); "14" indicates the reel number; "0056" indicates the photograph number within that reel. Consult the map table for a list of the reel numbers for each county and city present in the VHI.
The photograph record always contains the record number of the survey report it accompanies. If there are multiple photographs for a single survey report, the additional photograph numbers are also included in the photograph record.
To search for photographs by record number, do a Basic (keyword) search. Be sure to include the four-letter prefix VHIP, using the form VHIP [2-digit reel number] [4-digit record number].
- vhip 12 0001
- vhip 07 0036
- vhip 24 0112
The photograph number is also used to indicate the URL for each VHI photograph. If the photograph number for a particular photograph is known, you can go directly to the digitized image of the photograph by using the URL http://image.lva.virginia.gov/VHI/P/24/0112.jpg. Examples:
Each photograph record has two links appearing at the top of the record display. The first link will go straight to the photograph image; the second ink will go to the Report Home Page for the accompanying survey report.
At the Map Interface search screen, choose the beginning letter of the county or city to be searched. Then from the list of maps available, choose a category. This will then take you to the Map Interface for that county or city.
The Report Home Page is the virtual home of all the links pertinent to a particular survey report. From the Report Home Page you can go to report pages, database records, photographs, and maps. The Report Home Page can be reached by searching the database, retrieving a record, and following the links at the top of the record display, or by a pulldown menu on the Map Interface.
Regardless of how you arrive, once you're at the Report Home Page, all possible links are displayed on one screen. The links are divided into three columns: one for photographs, one for report pages, and one for maps.
If the survey report has accompanying photographs, they appear as thumbnail links in this column. Clicking on the thumbnail image takes you to the full-size image of the photograph; clicking on the link "Database Record" takes you to the catalog record for the photograph. The record number for the photograph is given underneath the thumbnail. Note that if this number is used in a search, it must be in the form of VHIP [2-digit number] [4-digit number], and not VHI/P/[2-digit number]/[4-digit number] as it appears here. If there are multiple photographs associated with a report, they will all appear here. If there are no photographs for the report, this column will say "No Photograph Available."
This column contains links to .tif images for each page of the survey report. The first link goes to the title page of the report. If an architectural form is present, it is almost always the last page of the report. A .tif viewer is required to view these pages. The record number for the report is given underneath the thumbnail. Note that if this number is used in a search, it must be in the form of VHIR [2-digit number] [4-digit number], and not VHI/R/[2-digit number]/[4-digit number] as it appears here. Clicking on the link "Database Record" takes you to the catalog record for the survey report.
If the survey report has a map location number, a thumbnail link to the Map Interface appears in this column. The map location is given in the caption below the thumbnail. When you click on the thumbnail, the Map Interface will display the close-up portion of the map with a red square containing the map number centered in the map, indicating the location of the survey report subject. Other red squares may also appear in the displayed portion of the map. The map category is also given in the report.
How to get there
The VHI Map Interface can be reached in two ways: from the Report Home Page or directly from the Map Interface search screen. Going from the Report Home Page will take you to a Map Interface screen with the map already zoomed in on the particular location for the survey report structure. Going from the Map Interface search screen will take you to a Map Interface screen with a full map for the entire county/city (zoomed out at the highest level). From there you can zoom in, select a category, or select a report. Once you are at the Map Interface, the layout will be consistent from search to search.
Understanding the Map Interface Categories
The VHI maps and their locations are displayed by category. Any given iteration of a map will contain map locations for only one of several categories. The caption at the top of the screen indicates the map and the category being displayed. (These categories were assigned to each map location at the time of digitization; they may not match the "class" categories assigned by VHI field-workers that appear on the report title pages.)
The map categories are broad subsets of subject types that serve to narrow the focus of the map. These categories are:
- Cemeteries (including graveyards, tombstones, sepulchral monuments)
- Church buildings (including parsonages)
- Commercial buildings (including office buildings, stores)
- Dwellings (by far the most-used category)
- Historic sites (a catch-all category that can include natural subjects such as rocks, springs, or trees, as well as Indian sites, monuments, or battlegrounds)
- Industrial buildings (including foundries)
- Mills and mill-work
- Public buildings (including government buildings, courthouses, jails)
- School buildings (including colleges and universities)
- Taverns (Inns) (including hotels)
Structures may have more than one category assigned to them; for example, a house that at one time was an inn would have two categories: Dwellings and Taverns (Inns). To change categories once you are at the map level, see below. Note that not all maps necessarily have reports for structures in all the categories.
The main window on the Map Interface is the map. If only a portion of the map is displayed, the Map Focus Area to the upper left of the screen shows the entire map with the displayed portion highlighted in blue to give spatial context to where you are on the map. If you navigate around the map, this highlighted portion will change position accordingly.
If there are map location numbers for the chosen category in the displayed portion of the map, they will appear in red squares. Each of these red squares represents a survey report for a structure at that point on the map.
There are two pulldown menus below the map:
- "View Reports for Dwellings [or other category] in this selected area": This menu lists all the reports for the given category that currently appear in the displayed portion of the map. As the map changes, this list also changes accordingly and only lists the reports shown on that section of the map. Clicking on an item in this list will take you to the Report Home Page for the subject. Clicking on the map from there would return you to the Map Interface, with the map changed so that the red square with the map location number for that report is now centered on the map.
- "List of all Dwellings [or other category] on map": This menu lists all of the reports available for the entire map for the given category, regardless of what portion of the map is displayed. This is a quick way of ascertaining the number of reports on a map pertaining to that category. Clicking on an item in this list will recenter the map so that the chosen item will become the central red square. From that point, then, you can go to the Report Home Page for that report by choosing the item from the "View Reports" pulldown menu.
The VHI maps are displayed using LizardTech's MrSID compression software, which enables quick navigation around the map, with the ability to zoom in and out, either by clicking inside the map or by using the navigation tools to the left of the map. Clicking inside the map will recenter the map to the position selected. If you are at a high zoom level, it can also take you one level closer. Whenever you do this, all other attributes of the map (category, size) remain the same. To change other attributes of the map, use the navigation tools to the left of the map.
- To change categories: To the left of the map there is a pulldown menu labeled "Select Another Category." The menu lists all the available categories of reports for the map. Choosing one of these will change the map to display map locations for the new category in the displayed portion of the map. The size, displayed area, and zoom level of the map will not change. If no locations are present in the current map area for the new category, the "View Reports" pulldown menu will be replaced by the statement "No [category] Appear at This Zoom Level." From here, you can change the category, move around the map, use the second pulldown menu to see a list of all the map locations for the new category on the entire map, or perform a new search.
- To move around the map: The navigator window to the left of the map has four arrows that when clicked will move the displayed portion of the map in the direction chosen. Clicking in any portion of the map will also recenter the map to the point selected. Note: if the Zoom Level is any level but the closest ("1"), clicking on the map can also zoom in to a closer level at the same time it recenters. Choose from the two options (Recenter or Recenter & Zoom In) directly above the main map display.
- To change map size: The navigator window to the left of the map has four choices for size of map. When the map size is changed, the zoom level, category, and center of the displayed map area will remain the same.
- To change zoom level: The navigator window to the left of the map has four zoom level choices, with "1" being the lowest possible level (closest in, with more detail) and "4" being the highest (farther away). Changing the zoom level does not change the category or size of the map. If you are at the highest level ("4"), clicking will automatically recenter and zoom in one level to "3." If you are at zoom levels "3" or "2," you have the option of clicking on the map to zoom in one level closer. When you come to the Map Interface from a Report Home Page, the zoom level will default to the closest level ("1"). Note that clicking on the highest level ("4") from inside the map will center the map on the point clicked, and the full map may not display; it may be off-centered. To see the complete full map, click instead on the link "Click here to enlarge map to full view," which is to the left of the main map directly underneath the Map Focus Area.
- To remove red squares: Sometimes there are many locations plotted on a portion of the map, so many that the red squares obscure map information such as road names or highway numbers on the original map. Clicking on the link "<remove red squares>" at the top of the map will switch to a display of the same map area without the red squares. Clicking on "<remove red squares>" will toggle back, restoring them.
There are two pulldown menus at the lower left of the Map Interface screen.
- Browse other county/city maps: This menu lists the initial letter of all the other VHI maps. Clicking on a letter takes you to a screen listing all the available maps for counties or cities beginning with that letter. From there you may select a category and be taken to that map.
- Browse original maps: In addition to the clickable maps of the Map Interface, the original maps plotted and annotated in red ink by WPA VHI staff have been scanned. This menu contains links to these maps, listing the initial letter of the counties or cities. Clicking on a letter takes you to a screen listing all the available original maps for counties and cities beginning with that letter. From there you may select a map. Note: the original maps are not linked to the Report Home Pages for the survey reports. However, you can recenter, navigate around, zoom in and out, and change the size of the map.
At any time you may also change the county or city by initiating a new search using the links at the bottom of the screen.
The vast majority of survey reports written for the VHI project were for private homes.
Database subject search
To find all dwellings in a particular locale:
- Doing a Browse search in the Subject index on "dwellings" will retrieve a browsable list of headings alphabetically subdivided by place.
- Doing a Basic (keyword) search ("Words Anywhere") on the two terms "dwellings" and "[place]" will retrieve only records with both those terms in the subject headings.
Note that place names used in subject headings may be more restrictive than desired. The subject heading "Dwellings" is subdivided first by state, then by only one political jurisdiction below that (for example, "Dwellings -- Virginia --Chesterfield County"). Subject headings are not then further subdivided by more local areas such as towns. So a dwelling in the town of Chester (part of Chesterfield County) would still have the subject heading "Dwellings -- Virginia -- Chesterfield County," and a subject search on " Dwellings -- Virginia -- Chester" would not retrieve this. (The same principle applies to subject headings for all types of buildings, not just dwellings.)
Note also that in Virginia, cities (as opposed to towns) are independent political jurisdictions, on the same level as counties. Therefore, city names are searchable as subject terms whereas towns or local place names are not. For example, a house in the city of Richmond would have the subject heading "Dwellings -- Virginia -- Richmond," and the city name would be searchable as a subject term.
To search for dwellings only in local areas below the county level, a Basic (keyword) search on the term "dwellings" and "[place name]" may work, or an Advanced search with subject keyword "dwellings" and general keyword "[place name]." This search could also work with county or city names, but one thing to keep in mind is that a keyword search retrieves records in which the search term appears anywhere in the record and not just in a subject heading. Of course, this may be desirable; then again, a general keyword search for, say, Bristol may retrieve records not only for Bristol but also records with a note saying that the house is "30 miles from Bristol," or records about the Bristol family.
The following subject headings are also used for types of houses. These terms are keyword searchable in conjunction with other search terms such as place name or family name:
- Brick houses
- Stone houses
- Log buildings
- Slave quarters
Particular architectural features may also be searched in the report record. In addition to subject headings beginning with the word "Architecture," the subject heading "Decoration and ornament, Architectural -- Virginia -- [place]" is used when architectural features are mentioned in a report. Also, a note is given in the record if an architectural form is included in the report; these forms are very detailed.
If a house has a formal name, the name of the house can be searched either as a subject or a keyword. Examples of formal names for houses:
- Locust Grove
- Twin Oaks
- Liberty Hall
Houses for a particular county or city for which a VHI map exists can also be searched from the Map Interface by selecting the category "Dwellings" and following the links from the pulldown menus below the map to retrieve specific reports.
The VHI reports can supply a wealth of genealogical and biographical information. Survey reports often contain not only lists of all the owners of a particular building, but also genealogies, family histories, anecdotal information, and transcriptions from Bible records, diaries, wills, correspondence, and tombstones. Prominently featured names from a report are also mentioned in the database record for that report, and are thus keyword searchable--but by no means do all the family names from all the reports appear in the searchable database.
There are several ways to search for family names, the easiest probably being with a Basic (keyword) search. If an individual or a family is dealt with extensively in a report, there will be a subject heading under the name, and a Browse search or a Basic (keyword) search in the Subject index would retrieve the record. However, keep in mind that many family names may appear in the record without necessarily having a subject heading for those names as well. On the other hand, remember too that a broad keyword search will retrieve records in which the search term appears anywhere in the record--so, for example, a keyword search on "adams" will not only retrieve records mentioning the Adams family, but also all the records written by VHI field-worker James Taylor Adams.
A name can also be searched in conjunction with a place name; for example, a keyword search for the terms "koogler rockingham" will retrieve all the records with the family name Koogler for subjects in Rockingham County.
Records with the following subject headings are likely to have relatively detailed genealogical information (this list being far from exhaustive):
- Bible records
- Cemeteries --Virginia --[place] --Recording
- Genealogical tables (indicates presence of a family tree)
- Genealogies -- Virginia --[place]
Place names can occur anywhere in the record and are retrievable with keyword searches. The "location" note in the record gives the place name of the subject as it is recorded in the report; this information also appears in subject headings, but keep in mind that the subject headings, when subdivided by place, generally give only the highest political jurisdiction below the state level, so towns mentioned in the report are usually not given in the subject headings. See here for more about this aspect of subject subdivisions.
Keep in mind also that many place names, particularly names of counties, have changed since the 1930s. We have preserved the form of place names as recorded at the time of the project except in the subject headings. For example, there are reports and two maps for Elizabeth City County, which in 1952 (long after the VHI project ended) was incorporated into the city of Hampton. The maps are still presented as Elizabeth City County maps, and if the name of the county appears in a report title or in a quoted note, it has not been changed; it was, after all, accurate at the time of the project. However, the authorized subject headings for the reports for Elizabeth City County use Hampton, the updated, most current form of the name. If the older form of the name appears anywhere in the record, it is searchable by keyword, but do not depend on a keyword search for the older form of a name to be exhaustive or definitive; many records for that place may be in the database, only cataloged under the newer form of name.
Knowing how the reports were organized when microfilmed can also be a way to get at all reports for a particular county, but keep in mind that several counties usually occur on one reel. For more about searching by reel number, see here.
Specific places can also be searched using the Map Interface. See here for more information on searching with the Map Interface.
The easiest way to restrict a search in the database in order to retrieve photograph records only is to do an Advanced search with one of the terms being the keyword "graphic." (The term "photograph" is not useful here because it would retrieve, in addition to photograph records, all survey report records that have an accompanying photograph, since they all contain a note to that effect.)
Many reports feature information about African Americans. A sampling of African American subject headings in the database includes:
- African American churches
- African Americans -- Education -- Virginia -- [place]
- African Americans -- Virginia -- [place]
There are several reports documenting information about slavery, including reports on slave quarters (with several photographs), sales and inventory records concerning slaves, and other documentation. A sampling of subject headings in the database dealing with slavery includes:
- Slave bills of sale -- Virginia -- [place]
- Slave insurrections
- Slave quarters -- Virginia -- [place]
- Slave trade -- Virginia -- [place]
- Slavery -- Virginia -- [place]
- Slavery -- Virginia -- Personal narratives
- Slaves -- Dwellings -- Virginia -- [place]
- Slaves -- Virginia -- [place]
There are several records concerning Nat Turner's slave rebellion. Many of the houses in Southampton County at the time of the rebellion are documented. These records appear under the subject heading:
- Southampton insurrection, 1831.
Finally, one should be aware of the terminology used at the time the reports were written. The term "colored" was used extensively to refer to African Americans; if this term was used in a report title or category, it can be searched by keyword. For example, the category given at the time to Eastview Cemetery in Petersburg is "Cemetery (colored)." Note also that in the 1936 Department of Transportation maps, in the map key in the lower right corner, there are separate symbols for "white" and "colored" churches and schools. These symbols may help identify African American churches or schools if this aspect is not mentioned in the report.
Information about the Civil war permeates this collection. Many battles were fought at or near the buildings described. Many of the houses documented were converted to hospitals or military headquarters during the war. Many others sustained considerable damage from the fighting. Reports often mention the service history in the war of previous owners. There is also a great deal of anecdotal history about the Civil War, including transcriptions of first-hand accounts such as letters and diaries.
Some of the more extensively used subject headings concerning the Civil war are:
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 .
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Destruction and pillage.
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Hospitals.
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives, Confederate.
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories.
Searching by date in the VHI database has limited usefulness, since so many different dates are used in the records:
- date of report
- date of photograph
- building date
- date of key events
- birth or death dates
- date ranges of ownership
- Not every survey report has a photograph.
- Some survey reports have more than one photograph, but most of them that have any at all have only one.
- There are some standalone photographs that do not go with a survey
report. (For these, there is a catalog record and the image itself;
there is no Report Home Page).
- Not every survey report has a map number/location.
- There are some map numbers which have no report to go with them.
- Some reports share map numbers. These reports may or may not be about the same location. (Notes in the catalog records attempt to explain this.)
- Some map numbers appear more than once on a map. The links should
go to the correct corresponding number.
- Not every county or city in Virginia is represented.
- Not every structure in the counties that are represented was documented.
more detailed help with searching, click on the "Help" link on the main
search screen and scroll down to "Search Functions" and "Search Tips."