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January 2, 2013 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham: Far from Hopeless


In my 12/24/12 post, I referred to so called “burned counties.” Virginia is plagued with them.  Most record loss is due to the activities of war. For example, when Banastre Tarleton burned the Albemarle County records during his famous raid in 1781, much of Buckingham’s history prior to its inception in 1761 was lost. During the Civil War, Federal forces were responsible for some burning as well. Sometimes early frame courthouses just simply caught on fire, one of the reasons Thomas Jefferson advocated brick structures.  His designs for Virginia courthouses reflected this prejudice.

The Library of Virginia has created three basic categories for research in counties with burned records: Hopeless, Almost Hopeless, and Difficult. You guessed it, Buckingham is labeled “hopeless.”  But I’m here to say that unearthing Buckingham’s history is far from hopeless. If you are looking for a specific birth, marriage, or death record, it’s true you may be out of luck. On the other hand, if you are willing to open up your research and apply a lot of persistence and patience, you will be rewarded.  I certainly have been and I’ve met a lot of terrific cousins in the process.  One thing I’ve learned about people working on burned counties . . . they tend to be generous. Every nugget of information becomes surprisingly precious.

In the weeks to come, I’ll offer some suggestions as to where to look when the records you so desperately want are burned.  The hunt is, at least, half the fun!


Leave a Comment
  1. Stemmatis / Jan 8 2013 7:19 pm

    A small matter … Col. Tarleton is unlikely to have been the cause of the loss of many early records. A more likely cause was the neglect of the clerks after the Revolution. Tarleton famously led an unsuccessful raid in June 1781 to capture Gov. Jefferson and members of the legislature, but I am still waiting to see a document written within a year or two of the raid claiming that any British troops caused any damage to the Courthouse or its contents. The gaps in records, especially court order books, include the years 1781 through 1783 and 1785 to 1791, long after the raid. None of that changes the fact that most early records of Buckingham, Amherst, Nelson and Albemarle (before 1761) no longer exist.

    • Joanne Yeck / Jan 8 2013 8:29 pm

      Thanks for this comment. Perhaps, all these years, it has been easy to blame the British and horrible to think that the records might have been lost at the hands of Virginians. If you discover an answer, please let us know!

  2. Lynne Henshaw / Jan 2 2013 8:45 pm

    The burning of the Buckingham Co. courthouse was due to arson, 4 years after the Civil War was over. No one was ever charged with the crime, however. But it is good to know that the State Clerk requested that the county clerks send copies of their vital records to Richmond as early as 1853. So it is possible to get some good information by checking that film (The LDS FamilyHistoryLibrary has filmed those records, and it is possible to go on and find this resource.)

    • Joanne Yeck / Jan 2 2013 8:58 pm

      Thanks for the reminder to check for records at I have also used the Richmond/State copies of many pre-1869 Buckingham records.

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