Library of Virginia Research Notes


The Library of Virginia (LVA) in downtown Richmond is one of the most important repositories for published and original manuscript material pertaining to Virginia. To aid researchers in navigating its broad holdings, it makes pamphlets and research guides available to patrons on a variety of topics. If you are planning a visit to the library, or simply want to gain a better understanding of the holdings of the Library of Virginia, then you will certainly want to review this material.

What follows is a list of the published “Research Notes” and brochures that I have found the most interesting to me in my own Virginia genealogical research. Many, but not all, of the links will open a PDF file that you can download to your computer and view using Adobe Reader or similar software.

lva-exterior lva-lobby
Interior lobby of the Library of Virginia, with the Circulation Desk at the top of the stairs. The reading rooms are located on the second floor to the sides of the desk. Photos by the author.

Some tips for using the library:

  1. Get a Library of Virginia card at the Circulation Desk. You will need to present a photo ID with your current address. You need not be a resident of Virginia to obtain a card. Having a library card will enable you to use library resources onsite, and to conduct remote research using databases the library subscribes to, such as HistoryGeo.
  2. If you want to make photocopies and print them to paper, you will need to load funds onto your library card using one of the cashier machines. There is no longer a separate copy card. If you have an old copy card bring it with you. Any remaining funds will be transferred for you at the Circulation Desk.
  3. Microfilm readers and scanners are available upon registration in the West Reading Room, and may be used for a maximum of two hours if others are waiting. You can save files to a USB stick without paying any fees; if you print to paper it will cost you .25 per page. The library recommends using a USB stick that is less than 8 GB in size.
  4. Do plan on taking a meal break. The Discovery Cafe in the Library of Virginia lobby offers both breakfast and lunch options. Daily specials are available (like BBQ pulled pork sliders). If the tables are full, ask to share a table with someone and strike up a conversation. You never know who you may sit by, and it just may be a library staff member willing to share research tips with you!

I hope to return to Richmond again very soon to conduct more research in their extensive microfilm and manuscript collections.

Annotated City Directories

Spokane Postal Guides (c) Dawn Bingaman
Spokane, Washington, has a unique collection of annotated city directories from 1903-1941. Photo by author.

In the Heart of the Inland Empire, there is a treasure for genealogical researchers, just waiting to be found: city directories. City directories, you say: meh. Wait. These aren’t just any city directories, they’re annotated city directories. Published city directories manually updated by the postmaster, to show address changes. Ahh, now do I have your attention?

Before we discuss these very special city directories, I thought we should first touch on the basics. City directories are a fantastic resource for genealogists and historians to link residents and businesses to a particular time and place. City directories were the precursor to the modern-day telephone book (now going by the wayside in the 21st century). Early city directories typically listed name, occupation and address, and were often divided into two sections: an alphabetized listing of residents, and an alphabetical business listing. It was not uncommon for a street directory and map to be included, along with other information that varied by year and locale, depending upon the publisher.

The earliest directories began appearing in the largest American cities in the latter part of the 18th century, and were regularly published in many urban areas by the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th century.1 In Trenton, New Jersey, for example, the first local business listings were published in 1844 in a newspaper called “The Sheet Anchor of Democracy”.2 Publication in book form began a decade later, with annual directories published (most years) between 1867 and 1971.3 Each area’s directory publication schedule will have its own nuances, but Trenton is a fairly typical representation of the practice.

Typical entries for the surname Carson, in the 1876 Trenton City Directory published by Boyd, p. 111. Names, occupations and addresses are shown.

City directories in Spokane

Now, we’ll switch gears and look at the scenario with regard to city directories in the Spokane, Washington area. I have visited the genealogy department of the Spokane Public Library on numerous occasions over the years. Recognizing the uniqueness of these city directories, I made a return visit in October 2012 when I knew the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society volunteers would be manning the genealogy desk. I took a few photographs, and err, well, grilled the volunteers that Tuesday afternoon about the annotated Spokane directories that cover the 1903 to 1941 time frame.

None of the volunteer genealogists had much in the way of specific information about the author(s) of the updates, but the consensus was that one (or more) of the postmasters in Spokane made corrections to the directories to facilitate mail delivery. Whether done on his own initiative or as a matter of policy is not known. What is known is that at some point, the published directories were unbound and sheets of blank paper were interleaved between the printed pages. Handwritten notations then were made on both the printed pages and blank pages, in pencil and pen. If there was any particular reason for the different colors of ink used, that information was not known to the volunteers that I questioned.

Local address changes were recorded, of course, which ultimately may have become part  of later editions. More valuable though are the annotations showing moves within the state, and even those that relocated out of state, as those types of moves would otherwise be more difficult to track. Margin notes appear to be related to dates of changes to mailing addresses. At some later date, the annotated city directories were bound and re-titled. Today, the collection is commonly referred to as the Spokane Postal Guides.4

Kuhn Family Example

Adalia “Addie” (Beach) Kuhn, sister-in-law to my 2d-great-grandfather, Clinton C. Kuhn, and family moved from southeast Washington to the city of Spokane by 1899. Addie, widowed in 1901, was not included in the 1906 Spokane City Directory. Daughter Frances Kuhn was the only Kuhn family member included in the printed city directory that year.
Frances Kuhn, recorder, Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Co.

Annotated entry for “Francis” Kuhn. Note the absence of her mother, Mrs. W. H. (Addie) Kuhn from this 1906 publication.

When the directory was compiled, Frances, who worked for the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co., was living at East 10 4th Ave in Spokane. However, because of the postmaster, we know she moved to 1223 Nora, possibly in May of that year. And, thanks to the postmaster, we know her mother (shown under the name of Addie L. Kuhn, and again under the name Mrs. W. H. Kuhn) was living with Frances at 1223 Nora. Why Addie Kuhn was omitted from the city directory that year is a mystery, but I am thankful that the postmaster took the time to include her nonetheless.

Addie Kuhn was manually added to this Spokane City DirectoryStarred entries for Mrs. W. H. (Addie L.) Kuhn, added by the Spokane postmaster.

The great many manual revisions made over the years in these Spokane volumes may give one pause as to the reliability of city directories as a source of information in general. As genealogists, however, we should be using every readily available source, and evaluating the information contained within that record when compared to other sources we consult. With the increasing availability online of large runs of image copies of city directories, we would be remiss not to include them in our research plans.

Tips for researching in city directories

  • A good number of directories are becoming available online at sites like and Google Books, but don’t despair if your city isn’t covered. Check the online catalog of a library, university or historical society in the area to learn what may be available offline as well.
  • Smaller communities may have been included in suburban or county directories, so it’s a good idea to always check availability for your locale of interest.5
  • Always read the preface or introduction to learn how the publisher canvassed the territory covered by the directory. This will allow you to learn who should have been included, and why your target ancestor may have been omitted from that particular directory.
  • Search for your family every year a directory was published, to pick up on changes in residence, occupation and household.
  • Pay particular attention to the first listing of a woman as a widow, as that will narrow down the death date of her spouse if you don’t already have that information.

1 Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to publish a city directory, in 1785. Meyerink, Kory L., “Effective Use of City Directories”, ProGenealogists ( : accessed 30 Nov 2012).

2 Trenton city directories on microfilm, microfiche and books in the New Jersey State Library, cataloged in “New Jersey City Directories at the New Jersey State Library”, [New Jersey] State Library Information Center,  ( : accessed 30 Nov 2012).

3 Ibid.

4 Spokane Public Library catalog search for terms: spokane postal guide, ( : accessed 30 Nov 2012).

5 See, for example, the many communities represented in various city and county directories in Washington state at the Washington Secretary of State’s website ( and : accessed 30 Nov 2012).

Interlibrary Loan Saved Me $160

Wherein the author uses online tools to track down an elusive family history book offered on the secondary market, and a much less expensive work-around

I am researching four different Porter families, three collateral and one direct. At least one of them (John Porter, ca. 1730-ca. 1804) had ties to Virginia, specifically Rockbridge County, and its predecessor counties: Augusta, Botetourt and Orange. So, when I learned of a Porter family history book from Rockbridge County, Virginia, I just had to have a look. Problem is, I’m in Washington state and I was unable to find the book locally. Enter WorldCat.

For those researchers unfamiliar with WorldCat, it is a network of more than 10,000 participating libraries world-wide and is arguably the largest online library catalog. It is the first place to check if your local library doesn’t have an item. Not all libraries are linked into WorldCat, but it will give you an idea of just how widely available an item may be.

To use WorldCat, go to In my case, I know I’m looking for a book, so I selected the book tab first.

(Click on an image to enlarge it, then click your browser’s “back” button to return to the article.)

WorldCat search

I entered my search terms…william porter rockbridge virginia

WorldCat: Porter search terms

…and got two hits. The top entry was the book I was after.

WorldCat hits on my search terms

Clicking the title link will take you to a list of libraries that have the item arranged, by default, by libraries closest to your given location.

Libraries that have the Porter family history

When I first conducted my search in 2011, two libraries in Utah showed up on the list as being closest to my home, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City being one of them. Since I was planning a trip to Utah in January 2012 for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I added the Porter book to my to-do list. Unfortunately, when I visited, the book was not on the shelf. Was it in use already on that early Saturday morning? I approached patrons in the first floor reading room. No one was using it. I approached the young man working the volunteer desk, who kindly offered that the book may have been removed for digitizing.

“But”, I countered, “your catalog says it’s available. Wouldn’t the catalog reflect the fact that it had been removed for digitization?” Initially, I allowed his answer to deter me on my quest.

@AncestorRoundup tweet about missing family history bookHowever, each time I visited, I found myself increasingly anxious. After all, I had traveled hundreds of miles, and consulting the Porter book was at the top of my to-do list. Long story short, I (nicely) pestered a number of volunteers in the reading room over the next week about the book. They had no record of the book being removed for digitizing, so they ultimately declared the book “missing” – which is why you won’t find the Family History Library in the list of results on WorldCat any longer.

FHL catalog entry showing missing book

How else to get my hands on a copy of that book? Perhaps I could find a copy on the used book market. I checked eBay, alibris, and AbeBooks, and struck out each time. Finally, I checked Amazon. Yup, they had it. One used copy – for $165.00!

I tried to rationalize spending $165.00 for a book I had never seen, that I wasn’t sure even contained information on my John Porter. I almost decided to pull the trigger, when I remembered Interlibrary Loan. Why not try that first? Although I had heard many libraries were doing away with interlibrary loan (ILL) due to funding cuts, I learned that my local library in Seattle was still offering the service for a mere $5.00. Considering the alternative, it was a bargain.

Seattle Public Library Interlibrary Loan informationThe Seattle Public Library (SPL) has made accessing items through ILL very straight-forward. You are able to fill out the form online, pay the $5.00 fee online via PayPal, and then when the book arrives, they send you a notice through e-mail. In my case, they advised it could take up to three weeks for the book to be received. I was pleasantly surprised when the book arrived in less than a week.

TIP: when ordering through ILL, if the St. Louis County Library shows up in your list of results as having an item note that fact, and the call number, in the ILL form.

SPL Ill form comment fieldThe St. Louis County Library became the repository of the entire National Genealogical Society’s library collection in 2001, and by its very nature, books held in this special collection are available for loan.

The elusive Porter book with ILL receiptThe elusive book: A Family History, William Porter, Jr. of Rockbridge County, Virginia (1740-1804).

As it turns out, I already had more information on John Porter of Rockbridge County, Virginia (brother of William Porter, Jr. in the title) than presented in the 1984 Porter book, so my $5.00 was well-spent indeed.