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. Theres 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:
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.
For the first time visitor to the area I would suggest visiting three research facilities, the Rockingham County Clerk's Office, TheMassanutten 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 Clerks 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 Clerks 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 youll see notations beside the indexed deed saying "none" or "part". Some of the people brought their original deeds into the Clerks Office to be re-recorded, and in these cases youll see a notation at the end of the deed stating the date it was re-recorded. In other cases the Clerks Office personnel re-copied what they could read from the partially burned records, and youll 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 Clerks 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 doesnt hurt to check both places.
Copy machines are available in both areas, and copies are $.50 each.
Please be aware that the Clerks Office employees will attempt to answer your questions, and help you locate documents, but they are all busy working on current Clerks Office business, so will not be able to spend a lot of time with you.
The Massanutten Regional Library
The librarys hours are:
Monday - Thursday 9:30 a.m. -
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