Virginia's Judicial System

Rockbridge Circuit Court: Genealogy Research in

The content of this page was provided by the Rockbridge Circuit Court and has been posted on Virginia's Judicial System Web site as a courtesy to the Rockbridge Circuit Court.

Using Genealogical Records in the Rockbridge County Circuit Court

Rockbridge County was formed in 1778 from Augusta and Botetourt Counties. This office houses records of all land transactions, probate and estate proceedings, court hearings/trials and marriage licenses recorded and issued in Rockbridge County from 1778 to present.

We regret that our office is not sufficiently staffed to conduct genealogy searches. If you have a request for a specific document and can provide a book/page reference or the full name of the individual and the approximate date of recordation or filing for that document, we will retrieve and photocopy that document when staff is available. The average response time is 2-3 weeks. A self-addressed, stamped envelope is required for the document to be returned. Copies are 50 a page and the copy fee must be paid before documents are mailed. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.

The Rockbridge Regional Library is located 2 blocks south of the courthouse on Main Street. The Leyburn Library, on the Washington & Lee University campus, is also a short distance from the courthouse. Both libraries contain extensive collections of historic and genealogical materials and documents.

Marriage Records

Virginia law prior to 1977 required a couple to obtain their marriage license from the clerk's office where the bride resided. Once issued, the couple could be married anywhere in Virginia, but the license was returned to the issuing clerk's office. If the bride was not a Virginia resident, the marriage license could be issued by any county or city circuit court clerk in Virginia.

Marriage licenses contain varying degrees of biographical information. Many licenses contain only the names, addresses, occupations and ages of the applicants and the names of their parents. During the mid-1800's a couple did not apply for a marriage license, rather the father or guardian of the bride appeared in the clerk's office and signed a "consent" for marriage. Very little personal information about the married couple appears on a "consent" form.

There are no residency requirements for issuing marriages licenses under present law. Virginia residents, and nonresidents, can obtain a marriage license from any circuit court clerk's office in the state. Both parties must be over 18 years of age and must present proper identification and, if requested, proof of age. There are no blood tests and there is no "waiting period" until the couple can be married after issuance of the license. Applicants between the ages of 16 and 18 must have parental consent before they may be issued a marriage license.

Birth and Death Records

In 1713 the General Assembly directed ministers or clerks of each parish to record births and deaths at the June meeting of court, but many parishes failed to make those returns to the court. This recording continued to be a function of the local parish of the Anglican church until the Revolutionary War. After the War the Anglican church was disestablished, many other religious denominations began to surface and the record keeping process fell to the individual family.

By the mid-nineteenth century the advantages of accurate birth and death information in efforts to control and treat communicable diseases had become apparent. The 1853 Virginia General Assembly passed a law requiring the statewide recording of births and deaths by every commissioner of revenue at the time he assessed personal property in his district. Prior to June 1 of each year, the commissioner of revenue was to report to the clerk of court all births and deaths occurring in his district during the preceding year. The commissioner of revenue obtained his information from family members, physicians and coroners.

The clerk of court in each county and city was required to enter the birth and death information in a register. A copy of each register was sent to the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts and those records are now on file in the Archives of The Library of Virginia. This law went into effect on July 1, 1853 and continued until 1896 when the legislature repealed the recording requirements in an effort to conserve state and local costs of recording and storing these records. While we do have these birth records from 1853-1896, death records from 1871-1896 do not exist in Rockbridge County.

It is not unusual to find information missing from these records. If an infant had not been named at the time of birth or death, the entry records only the surname. Only the month is entered for some births and deaths. In many cases, the names of the parents of the deceased were omitted from the death register because the informant did not have that information. Causes of death were frequently not known and may simply be listed as "old age" or "accident."

A variety of other sources of birth and death information are available in the Archives section of The Library of Virginia in Richmond. They have a statewide index to birth records between 1853 and 1896 and a separate index to slave births from 1853-1865. There is no statewide index to death records for the period 1853-1896 because those records were not routinely recorded (as is the case with our death records from 1871-1896). The Archives also has a large collection of family records (family Bibles, baptismal records, school records, military records, etc.), census records from 1810 through 1880 and for 1900 and 1910, church records, a small collection of cemetery records, and newspapers. All of these sources contain useful information concerning births and deaths.

There was no statewide recording of births and deaths between 1896 and 1912. To locate vital statistics during this period you must consult other sources, including those listed above. Systematic statewide registration began again in June 1912 and information regarding vital statistics recorded after that date can be obtained from the Division of Vital Records, James Madison Building, 109 Governor Street, P. O. Box 1000, Richmond, Virginia 23208.