Remember as you conduct your genealogy records research in the County and/or City, that when a new county was formed or incorporated, the records stayed in the parent and were not moved. Also many county and city records are still with the locality and not at the Library of Virginia.
Most Virginia county records from before 1900 can be found on microfilm at the FHL and the Library of Virginia.
However, the sizes of both collections and the dates covered within those collections are different. The Library of Virginia’s website lists its holdings.
The city and county courthouses also hold many original records. Wars, fires and other problems have come up throughout Virginia’s history, which has caused many of the state’s records to be lost.
The majority of those records were lost during the destruction of courthouses and other buildings throughout the Civil War.
In 1865 Richmond burned, destroying many records. Jamestown was also destroyed 3 different times.
However, despite all of that, there are still many excellent genealogical resources to be found in the state.
Researchers must remember that the Virginia county boundary lines have changed many times throughout the years. Researchers must be mindful of that, as well as of migration patterns, in order to find the appropriate records.
There are several cities in Virginia that are independent from the counties that surround them. No other states have independent cities. Researchers should act as though those independent cities are counties for researcher purposes.
The Library of Virginia’s website lists 16 sets of independent city records. City status in Virginia is determined by populations, which means that 25 Virginia towns did not become incorporated until 1904 and beyond.
Several counties in Virginia have actually become part of its independent cities and therefore no longer exist as counties. In some instances, those county and city records are still kept separately. See also a list of links to county and county seat government run websites.
The destruction to Virginia courthouses drastically has a effect on family historians in almost every way.
Not only are these types of historic buildings torn from all of our lifetimes, so are the archives they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others. Once destroyed they are lost forever.
Although, not all records were lost. Numerous Virginia counties have dealt with a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.
The Civil War caused devastating damage to multiple cities and their records. “Burned Record Counties” records can be difficult to find or replace using other resources.
The following counties have lost a large amount of records over the years: Appomattox, Buchanan, Buckingham, Dinwiddie, Elizabeth City, Gloucester, Hanover, Henrico, James City, King and Queen, Nansemond, New Kent, Prince George and Warwick counties.
Researchers interested in information on those counties may need to have added patience and spend more time looking into various different resource avenues.
Albemarle Co., Courthouse: created in 1744, all order books except the first and all loose papers were destroyed in Tarleton’s raid on Charlottesville in 1781.
Buchanan Co., Courthouse: created in 1858, county court records were destroyed by fire in 1885; records created after that date suffered extreme damage in a flood in 1977. A few re-recorded deeds exist.
Buckingham Co., Courthouse: created in 1761, county court records were destroyed by fire in 1869. One plat book survived and some wills and deeds were later recorded.
Caroline Co., Courthouse: created in 1728, most records prior to 1836 were destroyed during the Civil War. Some deeds and wills are recorded in extant Chancery Papers, and a considerable number of order books and loose papers survive.
Charles City Co., Courthouse: created in 1634 as an original shire, records have been destroyed at various times. The most damage occurred during the Civil War when the records were strewn through woods in a rainstorm. Many fragments of records exist, so many, in fact, that there is something for almost every year.
Craig Co., Courthouse: created in 1851, lost the first deed book and most of the loose papers during the Civil War.
Dinwiddie Co., Courthouse: created in 1752, county court records prior to 1833 were destroyed in 1865. One plat book, one order book, and one judgment book survive.
Elizabeth City Co., Courthouse: created in 1634 as an original shire, records were damaged and/or destroyed during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War. A few early deeds, wills, orders, and guardian’s accounts survive.
Fairfax Co., Courthouse: created in 1742, original wills and deeds as well as many other loose papers were destroyed during the Civil War; deed books for twenty-six of the fifty-six years between 1763 and 1819 are missing.
Gloucester Co., Courthouse: created in 1651, all county court records were destroyed by an 1820 fire, and most of the records created after that date were destroyed in Richmond on 3 April 1865. Six minute books from the nineteenth century and two surveyor’s record books survive.
Greene Co., Courthouse: created in 1838, lost the first deed book during the Civil War when it was removed from the courthouse; no records were lost, but some suffered extreme water damage in efforts to put out a fire in the 1970s.
Hanover Co., Courthouse: created in 1721, most county court records were destroyed by fire in Richmond on 3 April 1865. A few isolated record books that were not sent to Richmond and various scraps of loose papers survive.
Henrico Co., Courthouse: created in 1634 as an original shire, all county court records prior to 1655 and almost all prior to 1677 are missing; additionally, many isolated records were destroyed during the Revolutionary War, and almost all Circuit Court records were destroyed by fire in Richmond on 3 April 1865.
King and Queen Co., Courthouse: created in 1691, county court records were lost in fires in 1828 and 1865. One plat book and three mid-nineteenth century Superior Court record books survive.
King George Co., Courthouse: created in 1721, had one will book, an early marriage register, and an order book “carried away during the Civil War.” A few years ago the will book was deposited in the Virginia Historical Society.
King William Co., Courthouse: created in 1702, all county court records prior to 1885 (except for seventeen will books) were destroyed in a fire in that year.
Nansemond Co., Courthouse: created in 1652, county court records were destroyed in three separate fires, the earliest of which consumed the house of the court clerk in April 1734 (where the records were kept at that time), and the last on 7 February 1866. A few fee books have been found in the records of Sussex County. All records transferred to City of Suffolk include: Marr fr. 1866, Land fr. 1734, Probate fr. 1866 and Court Records fr. 1774.
New Kent Co., Courthouse: created in 1654, county court records were destroyed when John Posey burned the courthouse on 15 July 1787, and records created after that date were lost to fire in 1865.
Prince William Co., Courthouse: created in 1731, many county court records have been lost, destroyed, or stolen at various times. Scattered years of deeds, wills, and orders, as well as various bond books and a plat book, survive.
Prince George Co., Courthouse: created in 1703, most county court records were burned during the Civil War. A few record books survived and, proving that there is always hope, the volume in which deeds and wills were recorded between 1710 and 1713 was found within the last decade.
Richmond Co., Courthouse: created in 1692, has some record books damaged and mutilated due to unknown causes; additionally, the will books prior to 1699 were missing as early as 1793, and order books for the period 1794-1816 are also missing.
Rockingham Co., Courthouse: created in 1778, many pre-Civil War records were lost during the Valley Campaign of 1864. In an effort to safeguard the records, they were loaded onto a wagon that was subsequently set afire by Union troops. Records that were saved include: administrators, executors, and guardians bonds.
Russell Co., Courthouse: created in 1786, the first marriage register and all loose files were lost in a fire in the clerk’s office in 1872.
Stafford Co., Courthouse: created in 1664, many pre-Civil War county court records were lost to vandalism during the war. Scattered years of deeds, wills, and orders have survived as has an old General Index.
Surry Co., Courthouse: created in 1652, has lost deeds for 1835-1838 and order books for 1718-1741 and various other early record books are fragmentary. Court house fires in 1906 and 1922 did not result in loss of records which were then housed in a separate clerk’s office.
Warwick Co., Courthouse: created in 1643, county court records were destroyed at several times with most destruction occurring during the Civil War. A seventeenth century livestock registry, one order book, and one minute book from the eighteenth century survive.
Washington Co., Courthouse: created in 1777, lost a minute book for the period 1787-1819 and many loose papers in a fire in the clerk’s office on 15 December 1864.
Westmoreland Co., Courthouse: created in 1653, lost an order book for the period 1764-1776 to theft, and many loose papers were damaged during both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.