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Virginia: Local History & Genealogy Resource Guide

Compiled by reference specialists at the Library of Congress, this guide identifies key print and online resources for pursuing family history, as well as state, county and municipal historical research, for the state of Virginia.


Ralph Hall, printed for Michaell Sparke, London. Virginia. 1636. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

In 1600, Tidewater Virginia was occupied by 15,000 Algonquian-speaking Indians, led by a paramount chief named Powhatan (Wahunsonacock). Powhatan likely inherited the leadership of six Indian groups: the Powhatans, the Pamunkeys, the Arrohatecks, the Appamattucks, the Youghtanunds, and the Mattaponi. Powhatan then expanded his territory so that by 1607 he controlled twenty-eight to thirty-two tribes covering about 8,000 square miles. Each tribe occupied one or more riverside towns and was ruled by its own weroance, or chief.

In 1607, the Virginia Company of London’s ships arrived at Jamestown. So few survived that only a small number of Americans today can trace their ancestry back to an original Jamestown settler. The history of Virginia’s subsequent settlement reflects broader themes of the history of the United States. 1619 saw the establishment of the House of Burgesses, a quasi-representative governing body, as well as the arrival of the first people of African descent. Like other settlements, Virginia made peace, then war, with Indigenous peoples. Slavery was formally established in Virginia in 1660 and further elaborated in the Slave Code of 1705. Virginia also took an active role in the American Revolution. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason, became a model for the United States Bill of Rights. And of course the new country’s first president, George Washington, had been born and raised in Virginia.

Many Virginia records have been lost over the centuries due to fire, time, and war – especially in the burning of Richmond during the Civil War. Nonetheless, local history and genealogy research efforts remain undaunted, robust, and richly productive.

This guide offers a selection of resources and strategies for Virginia local history and genealogy research. These include the print and digital collections of the Library of Congress, as well as external repositories and web sites key to finding forebears in the Old Dominion State.

[Sources for the above include John Cerny and Gareth L. Mark, "Virginia," in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources ed. Alice Eichholz, 3d ed., 2004; and Brendan Wolfe, "Virginia Indians" (2020).]

About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.