Virginia Genealogy Tips

As a genealogy addict, I’ve spent countless hours researching my family’s history and have discovered that many branches of my family date to colonial America, with the vast majority coming to Virginia in the early to mid-1600’s. For those who have colonial Virginia ancestors, the Library of Virginia is a great resource in family history research. You can explore deeds, wills and other documents related to your colonial ancestors with a quick web search on their easy-to-use website.

If you have a colonial Virginia ancestor, you can click on the “Search the LVA catalog” link to access the catalog search. I recommend clicking on “Advanced Search” and entering the first name in the top field (where it says “any field” and “contains”), then entering the last name in the bottom field (where it says “AND,” “any field,” “contains”). This will only pull results where both names appear in the same phrase, which is helpful if you have an ancestor with a common name.

LVA Search Screen

Some records are available electronically for download. Others are physically housed at the Library of Virginia. You can create an account in order to request specific documents if you are local and can visit the library. They also regularly offer genealogy classes. Even if you are not local to Virginia, I have found that the records available electronically can be extremely valuable in obtaining a clearer picture of who your ancestors were and how they lived. Records on material assistance provided to the Revolutionary War effort, land grants by the King of England and family bibles and wills give so much context to the names and dates of ancestors.

Just as an example, I plugged in my ancestor Hance/Hans Hendrick’s (1660-1728) name and ran a search. Several documents showed up, including some land records available online. I discovered that on April 25, 1701, Hance Hendrick was granted 594 acres of land in King and Queen County, Virginia.

Hans Hendrick Land Grant

These types of records are ideal for placing an ancestor in a particular location at a particular time. If you have colonial Virginia ancestors in your tree, I’d highly recommend running some searches via the Library of Virginia’s website. I’d love to know what you find out!

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Ham and peanuts in Smithfield

A while back, I discovered through genealogy research that one of my ancestors was originally from Smithfield, Virginia. When my younger son told me out of the blue one day that he wanted to “find a really good ham,” I knew Smithfield was the place to go.

We headed to Jamestown to take the free ferry across the James River to Surry, then we drove about fifteen miles to the town of Smithfield.

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When we first arrived, we were hungry and craving some ham, so we visited Taste of Smithfield, a combination restaurant and country store that serves some delicious Southern food and sells a variety of Smithfield meats, Virginia peanuts and other local food and gift items. I had the sliced ham, mashed potatoes with ham gravy and green beans with bacon and onions. The ham was divine, and the mashed potatoes were the creamiest and tastiest I’ve ever had.

After our lunch, we took a walk around town, crossing Church Street to see some beautiful old homes. We visited the Isle of Wight County Museum, where we looked up information on our ancestors and discovered that one of them, my 4th great-grandfather, was actually the first mayor of Smithfield, as well as an attorney, state delegate and U.S. representative. We explored the museum, learning about Smithfield’s history in the curing of ham and growing of peanuts.

We also visited the old Smithfield courthouse, dating from 1750. Over the years, this building has been used as a private residence, courthouse and hotel. It was restored to its 1750 footprint beginning in 1959.

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My boys wanted some ice cream, so we went to the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street. It was a slice of the past, with wood-paneled walls, old-fashioned milkshakes, floats and malts and delicious ice cream.

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We finished our day discovering my ancestor’s home on historic Church Street, and his grave at Historic St. Luke’s Church, Virginia’s oldest church.

It was a beautiful spring day, and my boys and I enjoyed Smithfield’s old-town charm and learning more about our family history!