The Library of Virginia Newsletter
January 2016

Library of Virginia Launches First Phase of Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the first phase of Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative, a new digital collection of records that will help the public break through the "roadblock" that has long impeded African American history research. The project will bring to light the pre–Civil War experiences of African Americans documented in the Library's primary source materials. These include a variety of local records.

Researchers have long lamented the scarcity of primary sources for information about the pre–Civil War lives of African Americans. Noted historian and host of PBS’ Finding Your Roots Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. referred to the Civil War as "a roadblock for many when researching their African American heritage." Documents recording the pre–Civil War experiences of African Americans, enslaved or free, either do not exist or have been mostly inaccessible.

The Virginia Untold project began in 2013 through a generous donation from Dominion Resources. Since then more than 100,000 African American names have been indexed and nearly 40,000 digital images created. In this initial release, images of almost 5,000 records containing thousands of African American names are available on Virginia Untold. The images include freedom suits, freedom certificates, coroners' inquisitions, certificates of importation, deeds of emancipation, petitions to remain in the commonwealth, petitions for re-enslavement, apprenticeship indentures, cohabitation registers, and tax lists.

Collectively, the documents found in the initial offering of Virginia Untold tell the stories of African Americans, enslaved and free, dating back to the 17th century. These stories include that of Hester Jane Carr, a free African American who was tricked into leaving her home in New York City and sold as a slave in Petersburg, as well as the sad story of Jenny, a slave who was brutally beaten to death by a white plantation manager in Brunswick County. Researchers can also learn about Dennis Holt, a free African American living in Campbell County who petitioned to be re-enslaved so that he could remain with his enslaved wife, or Rachel Findley's successful years-long effort to win freedom for herself and more than 35 of her descendants in a Powhatan County court.

"Virginia Untold marks the first step in making records from the Library's vast collection of pre–Civil War African American historic records available in one interface," said Librarian of Virginia Sandra G. Treadway. "We invite members of the community, educators, historians, and the digital library community to review our efforts by visiting and contact us with your feedback about the site. Your comments will help us seek appropriate avenues for increased funding to enhance Virginia Untold and explore the possibility of collaborative partnerships."

Exploring Virginia Untold will reveal how various record types work in concert to create a fuller picture of the lives of individual African Americans. For example, the story of an emancipated slave named John Brown can be found in a deed of emancipation and a petition to remain in the commonwealth, both found in Petersburg court records. Similarly, these stories may not be confined to one locality. Free African Americans were required by law to register in the locality in which they resided. Through Virginia Untold, one can trace the migration of free African Americans from one locality to another through the freedom certificates they received when they registered with local government officials.

Several record types found in Virginia Untold have been transcribed through our crowdsourcing project Making History: Transcribe, providing even greater search capability by allowing for full-text keyword searching. As more records are transcribed by the public through Making History: Transcribe, they will be added to Virginia Untold.

By making this narrative more accessible and encouraging the public to help transcribe the records, Virginia Untold will promote greater understanding and spark conversation about African American history in Virginia and the nation.

Following this initial release, Library of Virginia project staff will embark on a 6–9 month evaluation and assessment stage before making decisions about future directions for Virginia Untold. During this time period, staff will strive to engage users formally and informally, in person and online, seeking to understand the demographics of our users, while diving deeper when we can by gathering feedback and opinion on use, collection selection, and technology.

As those findings evolve, we will seek appropriate avenues for increased funding to support new technologies, more digital content, and collaborative partnerships with the public and other institutions.

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The Library of Virginia and Dominion Resources Honor Eight African Americans as Strong Men & Women in Virginia History

The Library of Virginia and Dominion Resources commemorated the leadership and accomplishments of eight outstanding African Americans during the fourth annual Strong Men and Women in Virginia History awards program on February 3, 2016, at the Richmond Marriott.

The program honors prominent African Americans, past and present, who have made significant contributions to the commonwealth.

"Each year, the men and women honored through the Strong Men and Women program bear witness to the amazing accomplishments and contributions of African American Virginians throughout our history and up to the present day," said Sandra G. Treadway, Librarian of Virginia. "The Library of Virginia is proud to be a partner in this valuable program, which serves as an inspiration to us all."

"It is always an honor to celebrate the accomplishments of these extraordinary individuals during Black History Month," said Daniel A. Weekley, Dominion's vice president of corporate Affairs. "Be it through government, education, activism, sports, or the arts, these men and women have helped shape and improve our communities while enriching the lives of many." Dominion Resources is the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power and sponsor of the annual series.

The following honorees were recognized:

  • Melody C. Barnes — former domestic policy advisor to President Barack Obama, Richmond
  • Thomas Cannon, Sr.* — humanitarian and philanthropist, Richmond
  • Clarence M. Dunnaville, Jr. — attorney and civil rights activist, Roanoke
  • The Honorable Leroy R. Hassell, Sr.* — first African American chief justice, Virginia Supreme Court, Norfolk
  • The Honorable Mamie E. Locke — educator, senator, and the first African American mayor of Hampton
  • Claude G. Perkins, Ph.D. — president of Virginia Union University, Richmond
  • Michael Robinson — retired professional football player and youth mentor, Henrico
  • Anne Bethel Spencer* — poet and civil rights leader, Lynchburg

*Posthumous honor

Four high school students were also recognized during the ceremony. Each wrote a winning essay, selected from more than 200 entries, about the importance of helping others.

The winners of the 2016 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History student essay contest are:

  • Samuel Adu-Gyamfi — Highland Springs High School, Henrico County
  • Sohilia Elziny — Woodside High School, Newport News
  • Savannah Frye — Westfield High School, Fairfax County
  • Katy Richardson — Gate City High School, Scott County

Each student received an Apple iPad Air and $1,000 for his or her school. Winning essays are posted on

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February Online Sale at the Virginia Shop

Learn about Virginia's African American history through Arcadia's African American series. Online purchases of these titles are 30% off in February only. Visit the Virginia Shop online at

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Historic Circuit Court Records to Be Conserved through CCRP Grants from the Library of Virginia

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the Circuit Court Records Preservation Grants Review Board met on December 14 and evaluated 69 applications submitted from 61 localities. The board awarded 69 grant projects to local circuit courts totaling $903,205.75. Among the items to be conserved are: deed books, surveyors' records, will books, order books, marriage registers, birth records, minute books, free persons of color records, superior court order books, rosters of Confederate soldiers, death registers, and plat books. Many of these materials are brittle, have torn and loose pages and broken spines, and show the results of previous repairs using glue or tape. In some cases they have been laminated and the ink is faded.

The books and records to be conserved are used heavily by genealogists, historians, lawyers, and title researchers. They contain pieces of family and local history found nowhere else. Jane L. Brown, clerk of the Nottoway County Circuit Court, recounts that an 1805–1809 deed book scheduled to be conserved survived the ravages of the Civil War and includes an inscription stating, "Johnny Reb you can thank me for saving Lawyer Jones Books. I saved them because I am sort of a Yankee Lawyer myself./s/Charles Cook, York PA."

The Circuit Court Records Grant Review Board is composed of six members: four circuit court clerks, appointed annually by the president of the Virginia Court Clerks' Association; and two staff members from the Library of Virginia, currently the Librarian of Virginia/State Archivist and the Deputy of Collections and Programs at the Library.

The Circuit Court Records Preservation Program is a statewide initiative, funded through a $1.50 fee that is included with the cost of recording land transactions and judgments in the circuit courts. The program provides resources to help preserve and make accessible permanent circuit court records. The program awards grants to the offices of the Commonwealth's circuit court clerks to help address the preservation, security, and access needs of the records housed in their localities.

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2016 Virginia Women in History Program Honors Eight Outstanding Women

A talented mathematician who calculated the trajectories for America's earliest manned space flights and the first moon landing, the first female photographer hired by the Roanoke Times, and the artistic director and founder of a Latin ballet company are among eight Virginia women recognized by the Library of Virginia as part of its Virginia Women in History program. The eight are also featured on a handsome poster and in the Library's 2016 Virginia Women in History exhibition, on display on the second floor of the Library of Virginia, during the month of March. The exhibition will then travel to libraries, schools, and cultural institutions across the state. Copies of the 2016 poster and learning activities tied to the Virginia Standards of Learning were distributed to public and private schools and cultural institutions across Virginia.

The 2016 Virginia Women in History program culminates on March 31 with an inspiring evening program recognizing the honorees. The evening begins with a reception at 5:30 PM, followed at 6:15 PM by an awards ceremony hosted by May-Lily Lee. The reception and program are free and open to the public. To RSVP, contact 804-692-3592.

The women honored this year are:

Sarah A. Gray (ca. 1847–1893), Alexandria
A teacher and principal for more than 30 years, Sarah A. Gray had a profound influence on the education of African Americans in Alexandria.

Mary Elizabeth Nottingham Day (1907–1956), Staunton
A gifted teacher who strove to bring art to all Virginians, Elizabeth Nottingham Day was also an acclaimed artist of the Virginia scene.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (b.1918), Hampton
A talented mathematician, Katherine Johnson worked for NASA for more than 30 years and calculated the trajectories for America's earliest manned space flights and the first moon landing.

Flora Lonette Davis Crittenden (b.1924), Newport News
Educator and Legislator
As a teacher, school counselor, and member of the House of Delegates, Flora D. Crittenden exemplifies her belief that education is the key to success.

Elizabeth Lee "Betty" Masters (1929–2015), Salem
A trailblazer for women in the field of photojournalism, Betty Masters was the first female photographer hired by the Roanoke Times.

Edwilda Gustava Allen Isaac (b.1937), Farmville
Civil Rights Pioneer
As a teenager, Edwilda Allen Isaac helped lead a walkout of students from R. R. Moton High School that contributed to ending school segregation in the United States.

Meyera Fran Ellenson Oberndorf (1941–2015), Virginia Beach
The longest-serving mayor of Virginia Beach, Meyera E. Oberndorf was a tireless advocate for the city and its residents.

Ana Ines Barragan King (b. 1957), Richmond
Founder and Artistic Director of the Latin Ballet of Virginia
Recipient of the VABPW Foundation Business Leadership Award
As founder and artistic director of the Latin Ballet of Virginia, Ana Ines King shares Latin American dance and culture with students and audiences across Virginia.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is the media sponsor for the 2016 Virginia Women in History program. The Virginia Business and Professional Women's Foundation Fund sponsors the Business Leadership Award and programming for Virginia Women in History. To learn more about the program, visit

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Ross Howell to Speak on Forsaken, the Story of Virginia Christian

Virginia Christian is one of the many people whose story can be told from records held at the Library of Virginia. On March 9 at noon author Ross Howell Jr. will speak about and sign his debut novel Forsaken, a gripping, finely wrought work of historical fiction that recounts a sensational crime, raising contemporary questions about the racial politics of justice. Forsaken tells the story of Virginia Christian, a young black girl who, in 1912 Hampton Roads, Virginia, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. She was the only female juvenile to be executed in the history of the state.

Howell did much of his research at the Library of Virginia, and images in the book are from the Library. He attended the University of Virginia, where he was awarded the Gray-Carrington Scholarship Award, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, and the Raven Award. Howell earned an AM degree at Harvard University and an MFA at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa before pursuing a career in fund-raising, marketing, and book publishing. His fiction has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Sewanee Review, Gettysburg Review, and other magazines. Howell currently teaches part-time at Elon University.

The Times-Dispatch says, "An example of historical fiction at its best—and proof that such fiction sometimes can reveal truth to greater effect than journalism or history—Forsaken generates anger, and pity, and ultimately hope. And it will leave you in awe of Howell's deft hand in rendering a story of the benighted past that finds resonance in the present." Here is the full review:

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