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Rockingham County, Virginia
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Researching in Rockingham County


What you do before you leave home is very important to a successful research trip. Your research time will be limited, and you will be confronted with a huge volume of documents, books, and other material to look through. There’s nothing worse than getting to your destination only to find yourself  feeling totally overwhelmed (I know, I've been there). Even though I live in Harrisonburg my time is limited due to working full time, so here are a few tips I use to make my research time as productive as possible:

  1. Make a list of the things you want to accomplish. This will be a determining factor when deciding which facilities you visit while in the area, and how much time you spend at each. When you get your list made, go back and think about what sources might contain the information you are looking for, perhaps a deed, a will, a family genealogy book, census, cemetery records, obituaries, military records, etc. When this is done you can compare the list of possible sources to what resources are maintained at each facility and plan where to spend your time.
  2. Print out (or copy) your pedigree chart, and family group sheets for the people you are looking for. You'll need this when you're researching to refresh your memory on the dates these people were around. It's quite frustrating to find someone who may be in your family line, but you can't remember a birth or marriage date, or your guy's sister's name. These reports are the most efficient means to carry your data with you. I don't advise carrying all of your notes, and notebooks, as many facilities have limited work space.
  3. Determine what records found in Rockingham might also be available to you at home. Some U.S. Census records are on the Internet, or at your local library, and many books are available via inter-library loan. If you have a FHC close, you can order in many county records on microfilm to search through there. You can find the center nearest you, and search their Family History Library Catalog on their  web site. By eliminating these sources that can be searched close to home, you can concentrate on records that are available only by going to the locality.
  4. Finally, check out the times the different facilities are open. The clerk's office is open only during regular business hours, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but the public library is open many nights until 9:00, so you can extend your research day by going to the clerk's office during the day, and the library at night.



There are many motels in the area, and most major motel chains are represented. Since I haven't stayed in any of them, I can't recommend one to you. I would recommend making reservations, because if you happen to pick a week or weekend when there is a major function going on at James Madison University, you could find yourself traveling as far as Winchester to find a room. You can find travel information including motels and bed and breakfasts at Harrisonburg Tourism site.


Research Facilities

For the first time visitor to the area I would suggest visiting three research facilities, the Rockingham County Clerk's Office, The Massanutten Regional Library, and the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Historical Society's Genealogy Library. There are other collections at the libraries of the local colleges and universities, but those I would probably reserve for a second trip.


Rockingham County Clerk's Office

The Rockingham County Clerk’s Office is located on the first floor of the Rockingham County Court House. The Court House is in the very center of Harrisonburg, where Main Street and East & West Market Streets intersect. There are a few parking spaces around the court square. On Main Street, about a half block past the court house on the right (beside the WHSV building) is a public parking lot. There is also a parking deck on West Water Street which is about a block away from the Court House. The entrance to the Court House is on the Main Street (or East) side of the building.

The Clerk’s Office is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

There have been two fires which damaged or destroyed court records in Rockingham County, so you may save yourself some time if you first determine if records are available for the time period in which you are searching.

Birth and Death Records: 1862-1894. No birth or death records are available at the Court House prior to 1862 and even from 1862-1894 registry was voluntary so information is not complete. For information after 1894 write; Bureau of Vital Statistics; 109 Governor St.; Richmond, VA 23219

Deeds: begin in 1778. Records were burned in 1787 and again in 1864 and are incomplete

Marriages: start in 1778. Marriage records were not burned.

Wills: begin in 1864. Most early wills were destroyed by fire. Any information saved has been re-recorded.

There is a separate "Genealogy Room" at the Rockingham County Court House which houses pre-1860s deeds, the birth & death records, the marriage bonds and licenses and various other court records. The miscellaneous court records are not indexed, so probably are not a good place to start.

The index books to the early deeds are in that room, but not all deeds listed in the index are in the deed books because of the fires. In the deed index you’ll see notations beside the indexed deed saying "none" or "part". Some of the people brought their original deeds into the Clerk’s Office to be re-recorded, and in these cases you’ll see a notation at the end of the deed stating the date it was re-recorded. In other cases the Clerk’s Office personnel re-copied what they could read from the partially burned records, and you’ll find many spaces in the body of the deeds. Then, unfortunately, there are the deeds where nothing remained after the fire to copy.

The after 1860s deeds and all of the wills are housed in the main room of the Clerk’s Office. One thing to be aware of - I have found deeds which were originally recorded prior to 1860, and were re-recorded later, in with the main room deeds. So it doesn’t hurt to check both places.

Copy machines are available in both areas, and copies are $.50 each.

Please be aware that the Clerk’s Office employees will attempt to answer your questions, and help you locate documents, but they are all busy working on current Clerk’s Office business, so will not be able to spend a lot of time with you.


The Massanutten Regional Library
(formerly the Rockingham Public Library)

The Massanutten Regional Library is located just a few blocks from the Clerk’s office at 174 South Main Street. The main entrance for the new building is on the corner of Main and Bruce Streets. There are directions for getting there on their web site.

The library’s hours are:

Monday - Thursday 9:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Friday 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed Sunday

Summer hours may vary - so check their web site for details.

The Massanutten Regional Library has a special genealogy room. They have a very large selection of local, state and national genealogy reference books, family histories and Periodicals. They also have the volumes of cemetery tombstone inscriptions for Rockingham County which were done in the 1960s along with various other research material. They have microfilm of the early newspapers and some of the U.S. Census on microfilm. Check with them to determine exactly what is available. While the early newspapers can be a valuable resource, they are not indexed, so be prepared to spend a fair amount of time going through them if this is one of the sources you are interested in using.

If you want to get a head start on your research at the library before leaving home, use their searchable card catalog which is accessible on their web site.


Harrisonburg/Rockingham Historical Society's Genealogy Library

The Harrisonburg/Rockingham Historical Society is located in Dayton, Virginia, about 3 miles south of Harrisonburg on Route 42. Check their web site for more detailed directions. There is parking available in front of the building. Their facility includes a museum, bookstore, and genealogy library, which is on the 2nd floor.

Their hours of operation are:

Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (museum and library)

I highly recommend the genealogy library at the Historical Society. There you will find such things as the individual family files, obituaries, cemetery records, copies of the birth & death records and marriage licenses from the Clerk’s Office, church records, census records, and a large selection of family histories and other research books. Volunteers have compiled surname specific indexes which list the family histories where each particular surname can be found. Volunteers are available to assist you in finding what you need, and a copy machine is also available.

If you are not a member of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Historical Society there is a $5 per person per day charge to use the library. If you are a member, it’s free (so why not check into joining while you’re there)

In the bookstore they also have a large selection of local books for sale. Check their web site for a list of some of the books they have available.


I haven’t in any way covered all that is available locally for research, but hopefully have hit the major sources most people are looking for. While you’re here, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I think you’ll soon see what it was that drew your ancestors to this area to live.

Last updated April 08, 2006