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Candice Buchanan, Reference Librarian, Local History and Genealogy Section
Created: June 23, 2020
Last Updated: June 21, 2022
West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union on June 20, 1863, after separating from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. This means that prior to 1863, West Virginia's history is Virginia's history. Ancestors living in the counties that broke away became residents of a new state without loading a wagon or signing a Deed. Accordingly, it is important to know that the Colony of Virginia was chartered in 1606 and settled in 1607, under the Virginia Company. In 1624, the Virginia Company's charter was revoked and the English crown took control. The earliest Virginians did not venture far westward. That expansion continued over the next century. When Virginia became a state during the American Revolution, it claimed expansive territories that would later be divided not only to form West Virginia, but also Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and portions of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Harper's Ferry, in Jefferson County, was the setting for abolitionist John Brown's raid in 1859, ahead of the Civil War.
Railroads and bituminous coal mines shifted the early agricultural economy into an industrial one, as the nineteenth century moved forward into the twentieth.
The Native Americans who resided in the area that became West Virginia, left behind the famous earthen mounds that marked their culture. These may still be seen today in such communities as Moundsville or South Charleston.
This guide offers a selection of resources and strategies for West 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 Mountain state.
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.