Robert K. Headley’s remarkable collection refers to no fewer than 30,000 persons with Virginia’s Northern Neck connections during the first quarter of the 19th-century. Since Mr. Headley here concerned himself with the records associated with someone’s death, the overwhelming number of testators, family members, and others mentioned in the name index at the back of the volume will have ties to the 18th century. As indicated in the book’s subtitle—and consistent with the author’s penchant for leaving no stone unturned–Headley took his transcriptions from more or less direct records of inheritance (wills, inventories, and division of estates) but also court order books, guardianship records, and chancery suits. Since the contents of these rich sources have almost entirely eluded publication until now, they both open a trove of buried Northern Neck family connections and spare researchers countless of hours that would have been required to comb through the unindexed records on their own.
In addition to nearly 500 pages of record abstracts themselves, the front matter and appendices to Northern Neck Wills, Inventories & Other Records, 1800-1825 convey much about the historical idiosyncrasies of the records and Northern Neck research itself. For example, as excerpted below, Mr. Headley’s introduction illustrates each kind of record group and how matters of inheritance altered the course of events in people’s lives. The appendices are equally interesting. One discusses the major Virginia statutes affecting estates. Another collects the surnames of families most associated with each of the four Northern Neck counties. Still other appendices rank the frequency of White surnames, slave given names, slave surnames, and slave manumissions.
To quote the author, “Probate records are a rich source of genealogical, social, historical, and even linguistic data. They can illuminate family relationships and attitude. They can provide windows on the times when they were produced. Sometimes they can even suggest the ways the people of that time spoke.” In Robert Headley’s capable hands, they do that and even more.
Image credit: Northern Neck Proprietary map, via Wikimedia Commons.