Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia


The Library of Virginia houses local court records, state records, personal papers, business records, newspapers, special collections, books, journals, etc., that date back to the 1600's. Collectively, these records contain the names of millions of African Americans both enslaved and free. These names are access points to the individual stories of African Americans who lived in Virginia from the establishment of slavery in the 1600s until its demise in 1865. Taken as a whole, these individual stories help to shed light on the narrative of a people that has not been fully told.

Access to the stories held in the pre-Civil War primary sources concerning Virginia's African American population has been limited at best. These limitations are the result of period perspectives on the identities of enslaved and disenfranchised populations, as well as sheer volume. The Library's African American Narrative project aims to provide greater accessibility to pre-1865 African American history and genealogy found in the rich primary sources in its holdings while creating conversation and encouraging engagement around these records.

Work began on the African American Narrative in the summer of 2013 when the Library brought on two part-time staff members funded by a grant from Dominion Power. The initial step was to identify records that contained names relative to the project. From there the appropriate records were indexed and digitized. Once scanned, many of the images were placed into Transcribe, the Library’s crowdsourcing transcription project. This results in a full-text searchable record that is added to our African American Narrative database.

It is worth noting that the African American Narrative will remain an ongoing project for quite some time. The vast amount of State and Local Court records alone will take years to examine and we've only just begun. As the project evolves we aim to include records across all of the Library’s collections illuminating a rich and varied history of Virginia’s African American population.

Please contact us at – We welcome your questions and comments.

Our Logo
The Virginia Untold logo includes a Sankofa symbol, which represents a positive connection with one's past. Often depicted as a bird reaching toward an object on its back or a stylized heart shape, the Sankofa appears to have originated in West Africa among the Akan people of present–day Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and it features prominently in hand–painted Adinkra cloth. It is most often translated as "Go back and get it." The symbol's meaning in the African Diaspora, however, has evolved to reflect the importance of knowing one's heritage and the value of connecting with the past in order to build a greater future. Our motivation for creating Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative aligns well with the Akan philosophy of Sankofa. The records in this collection were previously stored in boxes and drawers, metaphorically waiting to be "told." Our hope is that users can make connections with their past through this material and generate a dialogue that will benefit the future.

The processing of local court records found in Virginia Untold was made possible through the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program between the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association (VCCA), which seeks to preserve the historic records found in Virginia's circuit courts. The scanning, indexing and transcription of the records were made possible through the generosity of Dominion Resources and funding provided by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Dominion Resources
Institute of Museum and Library Services