How he unlocks Virginia family mysteries with information found in this room

Posted at 4:18 PM, Apr 19, 2023

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- Dinwiddie County Circuit Court Clerk Barrett Chappell preserves county history and puts it online for others to use.

He recently uploaded information about the African American population who lived freely in Dinwiddie County between 1850 and 1864.

He found those names in a book inside the county's historical records room.

He took the old books, copied them, digitized them, and put them online.

“It will be preserved for generations to come," Chappell said.

The 80-page-long handwritten ledger detailed information on every free African American living in Dinwiddie County over the 14-year period.

It included information like their name, age, height, and skin complexion.

While many of the county’s records burned when the Union Army came through Dinwiddie, just weeks before the end of the Civil War, this book survived.

“It’s extremely important because this is the only record of anybody that lived free in Dinwiddie," Chappell said. "Without it, that history would be lost.”

Some record books, circa 1770, also survived and were also put online.

Marc Reynolds, with the Dinwiddie County Historical Society, called the cache of online records an invaluable tool for researchers.

“It’s going to be very helpful for us, we have a lot of inquiries from out of state,  people asking about family histories, cemeteries, where they were living at the time," Reynolds said.

The online information is free for anyone to use and is being safely and securely looked after for future generations.

"We have multiple layers of security for our records now, backups, automatic backups in the office, offline, so no hackers can touch it but also automated to an offsite storage place," Chappell said.

More than half the books in the historical records room are already online.  

Barrett said they are averaging about five books a year, being digitized and restored.

With the help of the Library of Virginia, he hopes to have the room completed within the next five years.

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