Jamestown, Virginia was settled in 1607. However, those settlers had no knowledge of what is now West Virginia. That area remained under Native American control for more than 100 more years. In 1660, Governor William Berkeley of Virginia tried to encourage explorers to investigate the area now known as West Virginia. However, there were many barriers in their way, including battles with Native Americans, as well as a 1763 proclamation against settlement by the British Crown and conflicting French and British land claims. The first major settlement in what is now West Virginia was established in Berkeley County, Virginia, by Morgan Morgan.
British aristocrats tended to settle on Virginia’s coast, but the western part of the state, which later became West Virginia, was mainly settled by pioneers from Virginia and other states.
Over 55,000 residents are listed in the 1790 census. Around 15,000 of them were German. However, British settlements were established in the valleys of Monongahela, Kanawha, Greenbrier, and New. The Scots-Irish tended to make their homes in harsher terrain. As of 1790, less than 1% of those living in West Virginia were slaves. That was due mainly to the fact that the land in the area was not particularly good for farming or agricultural endeavors. When the Civil War ended, the African American population increased. Many of them came to West Virginia to work in the mining and railroad industries.
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Getting Started with West Virginia Genealogy and Family Trees
Searching for West Virginia Genealogy Materials – West Virginia is a place of gorgeous scenery and unique culture, but it also has a very long history. Someone may search the records in the state for information about their Native American heritage, their Civil War ancestors, and more. This article is going to briefly address the best methods to use when looking for West Virginia genealogy materials of many different kinds.
A Good Method to Use for West Virginia Genealogy – When doing research you will quickly discover that searching for West Virginia genealogy data is something that can actually be done with many online resources. These are places that can allow you to begin gathering information or even requesting copies of documents you need.
There are also many organizations that have not yet been put their collections online, and this means that you must familiarize yourself with the different “offline” locations that will be of use to you in your search. It is extremely important to master both sets of “research tools” to use for West Virginia genealogy, and to understand how to get the most from them.
Your research will probably begin with public records as they are the most widely available of the online resources for West Virginia genealogy. They are always divided into the following three categories:
- Local Records – state genealogy research will usually begin with a county clerk’s office or website, and will go on to the local genealogical societies, small local libraries, historical societies, and school or college libraries for West Virginia genealogy materials. These are items that are usually offline and viewable by appointment or special arrangement.
- Vital Records – these are records for births, marriages, divorces and deaths from county, state, and national archives. They also include military records, immigration and naturalization details, cemetery or obituary information, census records, newspaper items, and passenger lists and records as well. These tend to be available as online or offline resources for West Virginia genealogy.
- State Records – from probate information to private manuscripts, surname lists, newspapers, state census information, marriage details, military or veterans information, land records, maps, estate information, genealogical folders, death records, deeds, birth certificates, cemetery information and more; these are available as online and offline resources for West Virginia genealogy.
Best Resources for West Virginia Genealogy – By the time you are done with the public records, will need tools for West Virginia genealogy that will provide you with the most information for your particular project. Below we have identified some of the best advanced resources for West Virginia genealogy:
- Vital Registration Office, Room 165, 350 Capitol Street, Charleston, WV 25301-3701;
This is where you can order birth, death, marriage and divorce records via a written request or even online.
Additional state and local records can be found at the:
- West Virginia Division of Culture and History, WV Division of Culture and History, The Culture Center, Capitol Complex, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East, Charleston WV 25305-0300;
Website: http://www.wvculture.org/history/genealog.html. Their genealogy corner is a treasure trove of links to the many digital archives available, and to basic information for those looking for West Virginia genealogy resources.
The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for West Virginia genealogy work.
- RAOGK Volunteers for West Virginia (raogk.org)
- West Virginia Genealogy Network Community (plus.google.com)
- West Virginia State Genealogy Network (facebook.com)
- State Genealogy Research Guides (libguides.wvu.edu)
- Encyclopedia of West Virginia (wvencyclopedia.org)
- West Virginia Indexed Historical Records (familysearch.org)
- USGenweb – West Virginia Genealogy (wvgenweb.org)
- The West Virginia Family Group Sheet Project (fgs-project.com)
- Free GenForum Message Boards – West Virginia (genforum.genealogy.com)
- Free Rootsweb Message Boards – West Virginia (boards.ancestry.com)
- Cyndis List West Virginia Links (cyndislist.com)
- West Virginia Mailing List (rootsweb.ancestry.com)
- West Virginia American History and Genealogy Project (usgennet.org)
- West Virginia (wikipedia.org)
- Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) – West Virginia (raogk.org)
- West Virginia Genealogy Look Ups (geneasearch.com)
- USGenWeb Archives Project for West Virginia (usgwarchives.net)
- Background Sources for West Virginia (ancestry.com) from Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
- Encyclopedia of West Virginia (wvencyclopedia.org) – free, online resource on West Virginia history, culture, geography, and natural environment.
- West Virginia Migrations Project (rootsweb.ancestry.com)
West Virginia Ethnic Group Research
When West Virginia gained its statehood, it also gradually freed all of its slaves. Many African American newspapers published from 1865 to the present day can be found at the Library of Virginia.
- West Virginia African American Books (amazon.com)
- West Virginia Native American Books (amazon.com)