Monday, August 17, 2009

Trip Log -- Day 12

We woke up on Friday, July 17, full of anticipation. The hotel was the nicest of all the hotels we stayed in, and we were about to visit the home of James Madison -- our 4th President and Father of the Constitution. We arrived early and in time for the first showing of a short film about the Madison family and home. After the movie, we were off to see the house!

Montpelier has changed ownership many times since Dolley Madison was forced to sell the home after the death of her husband. Much to my surprise, the restoration of the home dates to this century. After much research and labor, the home is architecturally the same as when James and his wife Dolley lived there, but the inside is still a work in progress. I enjoyed experiencing history through the tour guide, grounds, audio tours, and cemetery. It was even a drizzling wet morning while we viewed the Madison family graves -- we could just imagine we were in a "typical movie funeral." Here are a few pictures... James Madison's home was not the only thing I was excited about. It was the fact that I was about to go on a dream-come-true genealogy trip to the Orange County Courthouse in Orange, Orange, Virginia. If I had to choose ONE place in the United States to go on a genealogy excursion, it would be to Orange, Virginia. I practically stumbled onto it! With my family's blessing, I made my plans the night before using my genealogy computer program and family websites.

My ancestor, Benjamin Head, owned land in Orange county, Virginia in the 1700's and was probably in the local militia during the Revolutionary War. His son and daughter-in-law (more of my ancestors) were married in Orange County. I have decades of family history wrapped up in Orange county, and blessedly, much of the research was spelled out in an easy to replicate list prepared by a distant relative who doesn't even know I exist! I made a hasty list Thursday night of the eight or so records that were my top priority and hoped to get at least a few of them.

We drove the short drive back to Orange to visit the courthouse after we were done at Montpelier. Mom and David decided to stay in the car, but Susanna came in with me to help.

I love genealogy, and my job involves helping others do their genealogy, but I have never been inside a courthouse to locate genealogy records. My family doesn't have ancestral roots in Oklahoma, and we don't travel much. Can you feel how excited I was to be in ORANGE, VIRGINIA? I must be excited, because I don't write in capital letters!

We went inside the courthouse. I had my camera and list in hand, a bundle of excited/nervous energy, and my supportive sister to keep me calm and help out. We went to the clerk's office. She was out, but someone else from her office let us into the Archives. I could spend pages describing the room and my experience -- the books, tables, lighting, staff, other researchers... I will spare you the details.

It was almost too easy to find my #1 record, the marriage record for John Head and Nancy Sanford (married November 26, 1787). But how was I to get a copy? My first thought was to photocopy the record, and it didn't occur to me until the original was in my hand (behind a protective layer of archival-something-or-other) that photocopies may not be allowed.

I asked for help. A staff member told me my suspicions were correct: no photocopying. I asked about photography. She hesitated and said they don't usually allow that. I felt a sinking feeling inside me. Could it be that I would see the record, hold the record, and have nothing to take away with me? I asked about microfilm. Yes, it was on microfilm, but the machine was broken. "When will it be fixed?" I asked.

"It won't be." she answered. "It is not in our budget."

What to do? I asked again about photography. She had been way too vague for me to consider that a lost cause. I assured her that I would not use the flash. Sure enough, she answered that while they don't normally like photography, she would let me use my camera.

Yes! I began photographing the marriage records. When that was done I went in search of the inventory of Benjamin Head's belongings written in 1803 at the time of his death. It was found quickly and conquered (photographed). Next on my list were Benjamin Head's land records. I couldn't get them all, but I photographed several of them. Susanna's help was indispensable, and we found more records than I had hoped to locate in a short afternoon.

As it turned out, there was a misunderstanding about the number of photos I could take, so I was asked to stop before my list was finished. I feel blessed I got any at all. It was my understanding that I could take as many pictures as I needed (without the flash of course). It was the county clerk's understanding (once she came back from lunch) that I had permission for the one marriage record and nothing more. Oh well, they let me take my camera with all the pictures, and we left town (stopping for pizza on the way out).

What a day! We drove a good distance and spent the night in Tennessee. I will not include all the photographed records here, but here is a couple.


faithful lofgren said...

Elizabeth! So great to hear about your fun trip and all the awesome things you saw/did. ummm...I don't think you sounded very excited about going to Orange VA (heehee)!!! I would love to visit Williamsburg sometime so I LOVED the photos :)

Under Southern Skies said...

It looks sounds like you are having a wonderful time, Elizabeth! You sound so excited about the genealogy, I'm happy you had such a nice time. :)