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Genealogy Research: Public Records

This is a guide to conducting genealogical research at the West Virginia and Regional History Center

County Court Records

Eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century records from thirty West Virginia counties have been preserved in their original form, on microfilm, or as transcriptions. Records from the offices of the county clerk and the circuit clerk provide documentation of deeds, surveys, property taxes, voter registration, election returns, school reports, naturalizations, road maintenance, births and deaths, marriages, wills, estate settlements, criminal trials, etc.

County records are essential resources for genealogical research. An act of the 1853 Virginia legislature required the recording of vital statistics by the county courts, and most of these records have fortunately survived the ravages of time.

Records of births and deaths before 1853 are virtually nonexistent, because no law required them to be officially recorded. However, before 1853, Bible records and church registers will occasionally provide documentation for births and deaths. Early marriages can be found in county court records as well as in ministers' lists and church registers.

General descriptions of the types of documents available for each county are found in the Online Guide to Archives and Manuscripts. Detailed inventories of most county archives are available upon request. In addition, detailed indexes are available for court case papers from the counties of Brooke, Fayette, Hampshire, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lewis, Mason, Monongalia, Ohio, Tucker, and Wood.

Historical Records Survey

The most notable compilation of transcribed vital records is the Historical Records Survey of the Works Project Administration program of the late 1930s and early 1940s, which includes transcriptions of births, marriages, deaths, and wills available in each county, cemetery readings for many counties, and inventories of available county, municipal, and church records. 1899 or 1900 is the latest date for the Historical Records Survey transcriptions of virtually all West Virginia counties.

Inventory to the Historical Records Survey

Virginia County Court Records

Virginia county records for the years 1623-1933 are available on 733 reels of microfilm at the West Virginia and Regional History Center. These are almost exclusively Virginia, not West Virginia records. The microfilm includes the following types of records: deeds, wills, estate settlements, marriages; land records, surveys, grants, warrants, and patents; tax lists for land and personal property; Revolutionary War service and pension records; War of 1812 musters and payrolls; Confederate soldiers' service records; Bible records, genealogical notes, family histories, and church records. A general guide to the microfilm is available at the Center's reference desk.

Early Virginia Court Records Available on Microfilm