Book traces black history

Valerie Hairston, H. F. Haymore, and Dorothea McLaughlin

Valerie Hairston, Pittsylvania County Clerk of Court H. F. Haymore, and Dorothea McLaughlin hold up copies of a new book which traces black history. Pittsylvania County, Virginia Register of Free Negroes and Related Documentation contains the names of 637 free Negroes, the majority of whom were born in the county. The book was transcribed and compiled by Alva Griffith.



In a true tale of genealogical serendipity, the 1995 accidental spotting of a dusty old ledger in a pile of books in the windowsill of the old vault room of the Pittsylvania County Clerk of Circuit Cort's office has resulted in the publication of its contents and related materials.

It now sits in a more prominent place of pride and when someone wants to use The Register of Free Negroes it is easy to find.

Mary L. Boisseau, genealogist of the Dorothea Henry Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution was researching in the clerk's office when she spied the book in the pile that fateful day. Thinking it might be of some genealogical use, she picked it up, dusted it off with some paper towels, and sat down to examine it.

The first page let her know she had found a gold mine for searchers looking or their black roots in Pittsylvania County.

After getting permission from H. F. Haymore, Clerk of Court, she copied the book and indexed it for publication in the VA-NC Piedmont Genealogical Society publication, Piedmont Lineages.

In Califoirnia, a society member read the story about the book's discovery and its accompanying index. Excitedly, she contacted Boisseau about getting permission to publish the book.

Haymore agreed to its publication, so Boisseau sent a photocopy of the book to Alva Griffith, who transcribed, extracted, and compiled the ledger and relevant documents to supplement the ledger's information.

Pittsylvania County, Virginia Register of Free Negroes and Related Documentation contains the names of 637 Free Negroes, the majority of whom were born in Pittsylvania County, as well as white and other non-white individuals.

Time covered by the ledger is from March 16, 1807, to January 16, 1864. Griffith kept the original (often creative) spelling, abbreviations, and punctuation of the ledger, omitting none of the text and putting the original page numbers in brackets.

Following the transcription of the certificates registered in the ledger, Griffith has added a section of census extractions (1820-1840), and five appendices, including some wills, sample court orders, and renewed registrations.

She also provides an introduction which details the historical context for the data, an explanation of commonly used terms and abbreviations, and a bibliography. In addition to a full name index of persons, she has a locale index.

The book, published by Heritage Books Inc. in April, is a great asset for any black researchers with roots in Pittsylvania County.

Besides the name and Certificate of Freedom number, most entries include the age, physical description, circumstances of freedom, place of birth, and in some cases, parents or children.

In a few instances, there are families whose registrations detail their relationships.


Article contributed by Mary L. Boisseau and the Dorothea Henry Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution to the Star-Tribune, Chatham, Virginia, Wednesday, July 25, 2001. Used by permission.