Editorial: On the record
We’ve heard time and again that Gloucester and Mathews are “burned record counties” and that there is little use looking for local history that predates the Civil War.
It’s true that land records and other vital documents from local clerks’ offices, which were sent to Richmond for safekeeping during the war, were ironically destroyed in the fires set during evacuation of Richmond in April 1865. (We recommend Nelson Lankford’s “Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital” as a great account of this inferno.)
Nevertheless, history from those antebellum days continues to emerge. Many local researchers have been familiar for years with the vestry books and registers of our ancient parishes. A re-compilation of the Kingston Parish register last year surprisingly included hundreds of new names—those of slaves inexplicably omitted for a publication done 50 years ago.
Also of great interest to the African American population is the book “Names on Record” by Constance Brooks, who compiled records of the “contrabands” or runaway slaves who found refuge and work behind federal lines in Hampton Roads.
Now comes the new publication “Gloucester and Mathews Newspaper Articles” compiled by Joan Charles of Hampton and available for sale at the Gloucester Museum of History. As a newspaper, we are charmed by this well-indexed work, which has mentions from many surviving publications of incidents and people from the early 1700s until the early 1900s. It’s well worth a look.
Genealogical researchers in Gloucester and Mathews continue to uncover and publish old records that help connect 21st century residents to their ancestors. We can sigh “if only” regarding what was lost; or we can rejoice that so much has been found and shared … and wait for the next exciting revelation.