I volunteer at the Augusta County Courthouse every week to help answer requests that come in by mail. Today we had a visitor in person from Illinois, whom I’ll call Jane (not her real name). She had various requests and I quickly helped her find original deeds and a marriage record. Jane had done her homework and wanted to see the original papers of a court case she had looked up online in what is commonly known as Chalkley’s Chronicles. The formal title is Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish settlement in Virginia: extracted from the original Court Records of Augusta County, 1745-1800 by Lyman Chalkley, first published in 1912. This is a three volume set of abstracted information from order Books (Volume 1), judgments (Volume 2) and deeds and wills (Volume 3) all indexed.
What Jane wanted was the judgment in a case of Robert Shaw against four members of the Clements family, including Gersham Clements, which was listed in Chalkley’s Vol.2, p. 38, referenced to April 1800 (M-Z). We went down to the basement and pulled the box of judgments containing April 1800, but it wasn’t there. We looked at the entire year of 1800 judgments thinking it might have been miss filed. Still nothing. Had someone taken the file? Was the book wrong? This is where it pays to think of other possible scenarios.
The Library of Virginia has a wonderful online resource in their Virginia Memory collection of digital records. I’m referring to the Chancery Records Index which includes every county in Virginia. We decided to check there on the off chance the case might be listed. When you hit “search the index”, three options come up in which you can type a name: Plaintiff, Defendant, or Surname. All work, but we have had more success by using the Surname option since sometimes the person you are looking for is not listed as a plaintiff or defendant. We selected Augusta County, and typed in “Clement,” leaving off the “s” on the first try. One hit came up – not what we were looking for. Next we used the full name “Cements” and got a long list of hits. One with a Shaw as the Plaintiff looked like it might have information, but it was from 1812 and again, not what we were looking for. So we decided to try Shaw and see what came up. Still nothing.
The case we were looking for was in 1800. Chalkley’s Chronicles listed it as being in Augusta County, but Gersham Clements lived in Rockbridge County, which was formed from Augusta in 1778. I suggested we try Rockbridge County. We switched from Augusta to Rockbridge and typed in “Clements.” A case came up for Robert Shaw in 1804 with William Moore as the Plaintiff. Even though Clements did not appear on the index search result, since the date was close to what we wanted we decided to check it out. We clicked on the “view details” button and saw other names given for the case, including Clements. 53 pages of documents online. Eurika! One more try – typed in Shaw under Rockbridge County. There was Robert Shaw and Abraham “Clemon.” The year on this was 1788, and the name wasn’t spelled as we expected but here was another earlier part to this case, 24 pages long. All of these original records Jane could read online when she returned home.
So the moral of the story is if you don’t find what you want on the first try, try something different. Different type of record, different county location, different name or all three. It worked for us.