Early Virginia Genealogy: Tracing Ancestors in Northumberland County, VA

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Genealogy research is a fascinating and rewarding journey that allows individuals to uncover the stories and histories of their ancestors. In this video, we will explore the unique challenges faced when researching early American genealogy in Virginia, specifically in Northumberland County, VA. Join us as we learn from professional genealogist Jerry Satterwhite Dearing, who specializes in Virginia research at Legacy Tree Genealogists.

Understanding the Challenges

When researching ancestors in Virginia, it is important to understand the challenges that come with tracing lineage back to the pre-revolutionary war era. Unlike more recent time periods, census records, marriage records, and death certificates were not widely available during this time. However, there are still valuable records to be found that can provide important genealogical clues.

The Importance of Land and Tax Records

One key resource for genealogical research in Virginia is land records. These records can provide valuable information about your ancestors and their properties. By delving into land records, you can gain insights into their lives, relationships, and even potential migration patterns. In addition to land records, tax records can also be incredibly helpful. Personal property tax records, for example, can provide insight into individuals who did not own land. Additionally, land tax records can give details about the amount of property someone owned, including any enslaved persons.

Navigating Record Collections

Navigating record collections can be intimidating, especially if you are unfamiliar with the handwriting and terminology of the time period. However, with practice and perseverance, it becomes easier to read and interpret these documents. It is important to familiarize yourself with county-specific records, as record availability and location can vary. Websites like FamilySearch can provide valuable information about the records available for a particular county. Creating a research plan and taking detailed notes can also help you stay organized and focused during your genealogical journey.

The Role of Burned Counties

Burned counties pose a unique challenge for genealogists. Many county courthouses were destroyed or damaged during wars, fires, or floods, leading to the loss of valuable records. However, there are ways to overcome these obstacles. County histories, available on websites like FamilySearch, can provide information about which counties experienced significant damage. In some cases, records may have been duplicated or moved to higher levels of government, such as state archives. Checking with state archives and libraries can yield valuable records and resources. It is important to remember that not all records may have survived, so exploring different avenues is crucial.

Researching African-American Ancestors

When researching African-American ancestors in Virginia, tax records can be particularly valuable. These records may include the names of enslaved persons, providing genealogical information that may not be found elsewhere. It is important to search for specific names and age categories within the tax records to gather as much information as possible.

Exploring Chancery Records

Chancery records, found in the Virginia Library, are an excellent resource for genealogists. These court records can reveal important details about lawsuits, property disputes, and more. By searching for specific surnames, plaintiffs, or defendants, you can uncover valuable genealogical information that may not be available in other record types.


Tracing your ancestors in early Virginia can be an exciting and rewarding experience. By utilizing land records, tax records, and other available resources, you can piece together the puzzle of your family history. Remember to familiarize yourself with the unique challenges of early genealogical research in Virginia and adapt your research techniques accordingly. With persistence, patience, and the guidance of professionals like Jerry Satterwhite Dearing, you can successfully trace your ancestors back to their roots in Northumberland County, VA.

Keyword: Northumberland County VA

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