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Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative

Project overview and search strategies for accessing pre-1867 records of enslaved and free Black Virginians

Record Types

five people standing in court house archive room
Library of Virginia staff meet with archival staff at the Fairfax County Courthouse. Library of Virginia.

Virginia Untold records are organized by record type. As of 2023, there are twenty-two record types represented. Understanding these record types is key for successfully searching the collection. For more information about record types, please see this guide:

black ink drawing of elephant and man on brown paper, account book
Account Book, 1825-1827, of the medical practice of Doctor Matt. C. Whitaker, of Halifax County, N.C., concerning, in part, Ricks Fort and African-American slaves. Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

Currently, Virginia Untold is comprised mostly of public records, created at both the local and state levels of government. The local and state materials frequently complement each other, as the daily business of each is intertwined.

  • The majority of Virginia Untold records are county and city court records, also known as local records. Local records are often held in local courthouses, but the Library of Virginia has a substantial collection of local records that have been digitized and made available on Virginia Untold.
  • There are also state records within Virginia Untold, principally from the Auditor of Public Accounts collection.
  • We have also created topical collections in Virginia Untold comprised of records related to Gabriel's Rebellion and Nat Turner's Insurrection. Both collections include documents from state and local records.

A smaller number of records in Virginia Untold represent Unknown No Longer, a project from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and consist of manuscript items such as letters, diaries, account books, inventories, wills, and bible records.  

Researching Black history will always require searching multiple collections, and the same is true for researching with Virginia Untold. If you cannot find something within this collection, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There are many record collections at the Library that we have yet to digitize but can be accessed in person. Similarly, many local records still exist in local courthouses across Virginia and can be used at these locations.