In December of 1964 a large group of interested people gathered to organize the Historical Society with an emphasis on collecting, storing, and preserving records related to the County’s long history. The Society’s first meeting was in the courthouse; a permanent home was identified when the telephone company offered their old building that had to be moved to make way for a new facility. The brick edifice is one of the oldest structures in the county. It was originally used as an outbuilding for Thorn’s Tavern that sat next door and has served many purposes: first as the county Treasurer’s Office, as a law office, a doctor’s office, girls’ school, and telephone exchange. In 1974, restoration of the foundation, roof and floor helped to preserve the integrity of this wonderful old building. An addition was erected in 2000 to meet increasing need for space. One of the basic tasks at the Society is assisting individuals doing genealogical research. Over the years volunteers have abstracted Rappahannock County records and wills to have readily on hand. A steady stream of visitors and research requests, such as historical property searches, keep the volunteer force quite busy. Library holdings include family files, birth, death, marriage, and will records for Rappahannock and surroundings counties where many of our residents found work, married and settled. The museum contains artifacts of the county, some of which are prehistoric, donated by descendants and generous benefactors.
When someone contacts the society looking for information on their Rappahannock County connections, the first thing that is done is to pull out one of the family files. Over the years material on about 1000 Rappahannock County families has been gathered. These files may contain only a few sheets of paper up to multiple files on some families. Society staff assists those coming to do their own research and also accepts paid assignments to answer research questions for those who request it. The staff is well trained in doing deed searches and connecting the dots in family trees. Many obituaries are also contained in the family files. Most date from the 1960s forward, but a few go back to the 1890s. These come from scrapbook clippings taken from the “Blue Ridge Guide” the local paper at the time
Some years ago the Society started the Cemetery Project. The project objective was to find every graveyard in the county and list those individuals buried there. Volunteers visited every known cemetery and took down the names. This project took years and is still being added to. In 2009 the society produced a CD with all of this information and produced the current one in 2015. Information is added every week to the database containing close to 15,000 names. Burials of Rappahannock residents in other counties are also to be found in the Cemetery Project. Many Rappahannock people are buried in surrounding counties and information on the cemeteries that are most often used in those localities is entered in the cemetery database.
The family files are not the only collections available. There are also files on county churches, schools, houses, mills, businesses, wars, towns, etc. Call us to see if the Society has what you need!
Another service offered by the Society is paid property searches done by volunteers who have years of experience in this and can trace the owners of county properties back to when Rappahannock was still part of Culpeper County and prior to that, Orange County.
The memories of those who have lived in this county all their lives are a very important resource. The Society has been collecting oral histories from people for some years now. We know how important it is to gather this information while we can. To hear these reminiscences is fascinating. The transcribed interviews are available in our large library. Some of the other books contained in our library are reference books on Rappahannock and other Virginia counties, Revolutionary and Civil War reference guides, books containing genealogical information for other states, a large selection of books on the Shenandoah National Park, books on African –American history, copies of church minute books, books on the Germanna Colony, and books on local families. These books can be perused at the Society under the supervision of staff.
While keeping track of the myriad of projects, the director is also extremely knowledgeable on Civil War and Revolutionary War history and the soldiers from the county who served in the wars. She fields many questions on these subjects during the year.
Upstairs at the Society is a museum with many items from Rappahannock’s history. The artifacts cover many time periods from the 1700s to clothes ca. 1930 from Hackleys’ Store in Amissville. Guided tours of the museum are available during regular business hours: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays 11-5.
The Society is also proud to have a small store featuring a wide selection of Rappahannock County related books and products made in the county. Some of our best sellers are “Facts, Fiction, & Foolishness” by C. E. & Elisabeth Johnson and the Eugene Scheel map of Rappahannock County. Come by the Society to see the variety of items or visit our website www.rappahannockhistsoc.org to see some of the things we sell.
Another important project being undertaken is the on-line digitization of much of the Society collections. An interesting visual interface to the digitized information may be found under the Digital Archives button on the Society website. The records may be searched by keywords, collections, specific topics, dates, etc. This is a work in progress that will allow much broader access to the Society records and assist researchers in locating items in the collections for further study.
The Society is very proud of the services it provides and the collections that have been amassed in the last fifty-one years. We hope to be able to keep our doors open for many years to come.
©2009 Rappahannock Historical Society / site by Eva D. Grimsley