Visit Your Relatives Day: Webs of Virginia Kinship and Your Genealogy

May 18th is a day to renew family ties by visiting often thought of, seldom seen people who are related to you. When you have Virginia ancestry, you have a whole ton of people who are related to you–although you may not know them yet by face or by name.

You can visit via Instant Messenger, email, telephone, FAX, computer video, chat rooms and oldtime computer bulletin boards and forums, message texting by cellphone, and newspaper or billboard ads. There are many other creative ways.

In Box Elder County UT where I live, along Interstate 15/84, there is an old cement pea vinery which is used as a local message board–welcoming home returning soldiers and missionaries, announcing weddings, proposing marriage, and invitations to the Prom all presented in bright paint. And every day it changes as old messages are covered over and new ones sprayed on.

I have always wanted to post a genealogy message on that cement bulletin board–never have lived that rashly, yet.

Why a Genealogist Reads a History Book:

  1. To discover records and sources previously unknown to you or not previously consulted by those who have traced your family.  Footnotes and bibliographies will list titles, authors, and current locations of these materials as of the publication date of the book.  Some of my best sources have been discovered this way.
  2. To study the jurisdictions that apply to the places of residence for your ancestors. Each locality has special authorities that keep and preserve records of your ancestors and you need to know them.
  3. To learn the context in which your ancestors lived their lives: the social setting, the geographic boundaries, the climate, settlement patterns, government structure, local folkways and customs.
  4. To gain basic facts: names, dates, places, relationship and kinship networks, migration patterns.

Before I plunge into the records for any given genealogy research project, I study some histories of the state and the local places where your ancestors lived. I study maps that show boundaries of counties and towns, maps that show me where the geographic barriers to migration really lie, maps that identify ownership of lands. I want to know what spelling variants of common surnames I will encounter as I search. And I want to find out when people migrated in and where they came from. And if they have relatives in that place–I want to know that too.

Sometimes internet resources can fill you in on these essentials. Usually you have to read older histories where these facts and traditions have been preserved. Two important books will be highlighted here and I recommend that you add them to your summer reading list.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Fischer describes Virginia, 1642-75 on pp. 207-418–a book in itself. Sir William Berkeley served as governor with a highly successful recruiting program for British immigrants into the Tidewater. This is what Fischer says about it:

Of all Sir William Berkeley’s many projects, the most important was his recruitment of a Royalist elite for Virginia. In the words of historian Philip Bruce, he “encouraged the cavaliers to come over in large numbers.” When they arrived, he promoted them to high office, granted them large estates, and created the ruling oligarchy that ran the colony for many generations.

This cavalier migration continued throughout Berkeley’s tenure as governor (1642-76)…Virginia’s immigrants were refugees from oppression. Many had fought for Charles I in England’s Civil War. Others rallied to the future King Charles II, and in 1651, fought at his side on the field of Worcester, where they were beaten once again.

Most were British emigres who took refuge in Europe. But many were recruited by Berkeley. These”distressed cavaliers” founded what would later become the first families of Virginia. p. 212.

And most of them were related by blood or by marriage before they came to Virginia–or they merged by marriage and then by blood once they had arrived. Carter, and Culpeper, and Hammond, and Digges, and Chicheley, and Custis, and Page, and Harrison, and Isham, and Skipwith, and Landon, and Randolph, and Moryson, and Corbin, and Washington, and Percy, and West, and Gage, and Throgmorton, and Wyatt, and Kemp, and Byrd.

Of 152 Virginians who held top offices in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, at least 16 were connected to aristocratic families, and 101 were the sons of baronets, knights, and the rural gentry of England. Seven more came from armigerous urban families, with coats of arms at the College of Heralds. Only eighteen were the sons of yeomen, traders, mariners, artisans, or “plebs.” None came to Virginia as laborers or indentured servants except possibly the first Adam Thoroughgood who was also the brother of a baronet. Only two were not British, and nine could not be identified. p. 218. (See footnote 8 for a list of the surnames in each category.)

How come so many Virginia genealogies are not yet extended across the ocean? How come? How come? Knowing this society, we also know where to look to find them.  Don’t we?

Clifford Dowdey, The Virginia Dynasties: The Emergence of “King” Carter and the Golden Age. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969. Dowdey describes the interrelationships between these powerful families. William Randolph and his wife Mary Isham have been called the “Adam and Eve” of Virginia genealogy because they are related to so many famous families and their descendants include so many famous Virginians. Local power, both economic and political, was held through justices of the peace, Anglican parish vestrymen, House of Burgesses delegates, and customs and port officials.

Pedigrees of the Northern Neck “webs of Virginia kinship” were sketched by Louis E. Pondrum in his manuscript collections now in the possession of the St. Louis Genealogical Society, St Louis County Library 1640 So. Lindbergh Blvd. • St. Louis, MO 63131 . 314.994.3300 ext 208 •  He shows the interconnections of these families on his charts.

Pondrum created a massive card file of source references to back up the conclusions on his charts. This card file is also in St. Louis. Watch my website. As quickly as I can, I will post a beginning surname list taken from my photocopies of his pedigrees. Then you can contact the Society for copies of those charts that include your ancestors.

The Genealogy Library Center has the Brian Young Collection of Virginia Families.  As we process this collection, a surname list will be posted on this website with search instructions.  Watch for it.  We are currently processing collections as quickly as we can.

This week, we completed the Hollingsworth Collection.  With pages and pages of surnames to be posted on our website.  Watch for this list too.

Your favorite genealogist of choice, Arlene Eakle

P.S.  I should have posted this  Genealogy News Sheet this morning so you would have had the whole day to check in with favorite relatives.  Holly Hansen is visiting with her sister this evening.  I visited with my grandson this evening and told him about Visit Your Relatives Day.  You can carry over checking in through the weekend.  And check online for Virginia relatives you don’t yet know.

More Virginia coming next week!

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