To me, learning about the history of an area during the time my
ancestors lived there is as important as discovering the next G-G-G-G... grandfather. Just
having a list of dates and names without also having an idea of what their lives were like
becomes a little dull.
I felt there might be an interest and a need for a separate section
dealing specifically with historical and geographical type questions on Rockingham County
in addition to the section dealing specifically with area surnames and individuals. I'm
also including a few articles pertaining to Rockingham County and the Shenandoah Valley.
If you have articles or information you would like to share please send them to me and I
will post them as space allows.
I will also post historical or geographical queries for you.
These must be of a general nature as the surname query pages
and boards are to be used for specific ancestor
cannot promise to answer each of you individually though. I have to save some time to earn
a living :-)
Today, in geographical terms, we normally think of upper as being north
and lower as south. Not so during the early development of the Shenandoah Valley. In many
old reference books you may find these terms used and they can be quite confusing when
they speak of the lower valley and in the same breath mention Winchester (which is in the
northern part of the Shenandoah Valley).
The assumption is that early settlers in the Shenandoah Valley referred
to parts of the Valley as Upper and Lower for two reasons: 1) the elevation of the floor
of the Valley is higher in the Rockingham County/Harrisonburg area and south than in the
Frederick County/Winchester area (reason enough in itself) and therefore, 2) the
Shenandoah River which runs through the Valley flows north. If they were shipping anything
via the river from Rockingham County they would go "down" the river toward Front
Royal and Winchester (which is north).
Along with these terms that were used you may find a few others that do
not appear on today's maps or in the current records. In some of the old deeds you will
find references to North Mountain and South Mountain. At that time they referred to the
Massanutten Mountain as the North Mtn. and the Blue Ridge as the South Mtn. There are also
various names used for the Shenandoah River such as "Sherando" (Sherundo &
other spellings) and Gerundo.
Just What Makes Up the Shenandoah Valley?
Living in the Shenandoah Valley (Harrisonburg to be exact) I usually
think of the valley as stretching from about Winchester to Lexington. Technically it would
be the area where the Shenandoah River flows and can be expanded into whatever watersheds
feed into the river. The southernmost county included in the term "Shenandoah
Valley" would therefore be Augusta since it's streams and rivers flow into what
becomes the Shenandoah, and the northernmost county would be Jefferson County, WVa, where
the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. In between these two points the
counties whose watersheds would feed into the Shenandoah River would be Rockingham, Page,
Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren and Frederick.
There are two forks of the Shenandoah River. The South Fork begins at
Port Republic which is in Rockingham County. Two rivers, the North River and South River
meet at Port Republic and become the South Fork of the Shenandoah. This branch flows north
up the eastern side of the Massanutten Mountain range (which, by the way is a separate
range and not part of the Blue Ridge). To natives, this side of the "Valley" is
called "Page Valley".
The North Fork of the Shenandoah River begins
Broadway/Timberville area. This branch flows north up the west side of the Massanutten
Mountains and the two branches meet at Front Royal. The river then continues north and
meets with the Potomac at Harper's Ferry.
Location of Court Records in Virginia's Cities and
There are different "classes" of cities in Virginia, and
depending on the class, and on the preference of the governing bodies of the cities and
counties, you may find the court records, i.e. deeds, wills, etc. recorded at the county
level or at the city level. For example, Harrisonburg, which is the county seat for
Rockingham, is termed an independent city but all court records from within the city
limits are filed at the same location, and indexed with, those for Rockingham County. On
the other hand, Staunton (the county seat for Augusta County), and Waynesboro which is
also in August County are also Independent Cities, but court records for the cities are
filed at a different location than records for Augusta County. If you are researching a
family in Virginia, and they lived in or near a city it would be wise to determine the
status of that city to make sure you are searching all available records.
First Settlers of the Shenandoah Valley
Generally speaking the Valley area was predominately populated with the
"Scots-Irish" and Germans. The Scots-Irish seem to have congregated more in
Augusta County and south, and the Germans from Rockingham County north. That, of course,
is a generalization and you will find some of both settling in the entire region, but
looking at the names of the early settlers to these areas would bear out this
generalization. Much of the settlement came by way of Pennsylvania down through the
"Great Valley", and so if you are researching a family in Rockingham County and
are attempting to find where they came from before settling here, Pennsylvania is a good
place to start looking.
I take full credit for any errors you may find in my "tips and
tid-bits" section, but please, be kind when you point them out! Harriet Welch firstname.lastname@example.org