Sunday, November 16, 2014

What are Vestry Records?

St. Peter's Church near Talleysville, Virginia, organized in 1703
As early as 1623 the parish unit in Virginia administered religious affairs in the community when an Act of Assembly declared that a public granary should be erected in every parish to secure the people against the pangs of a general famine.  The country was laid off into shires in 1634, then each shire was divided into parishes and also into precincts or boroughs for the constables.  This was serious business as boundaries were defined and lines surveyed.  Because the boundaries were so large and church attendance required, a system of dividing all of the large parishes was later carried out.  Initially there were but three parishes, viz: Upper Norfolk County, (later Upper Chippoak to support Jamestown), the parish of Marstan in New Kent County and Lancaster County (divided into two parishes).  Sometimes a parish which had once been fully organized sank (for a time) or permanently out of practical existence.  There were several reasons for this, such as the soil proving incapable of further production on a scale sufficient to support a goodly number of the people,  the unheathy local swamp land or a parish situated on the irregular line of frontier.  The last reason became obvious when Indian Wars torched homes and took scalps.  In 1661, there were about fifty parishes. Significant to the genealogist and historian is the vestry books belonging to each parish which detailed land boundaries, names of adjoining tracts dates and expenses.  Beginning with the site of the parish house and following the description of the various boundaries (as they were established), one can arrive at a reasonable projection of the location of his ancestor's lands.  Remember, they were measuring a wildness country!  The old land measurements were different from today, such as chains, creeks, rivers and even slashes on trees,  However, as the colonists acquired and dispose of land, the legal descriptions changed somewhat and the tax digest (with names of adjoining water boundaries and the names of neighbors, may serve to provide additional definitions.  Next, if you use the deed books to trace the ownership of land from its original owner forward, a more complete picture can be drawn.  Therefore, the use of the vestry books, tax and deed records as well as a good local map is indicated.  

Therefore, we see again that the settlement of the colony was all about agriculture and land.

Sources: Hening's Statutes, vol i., p. 128; Virginia's Cure, p. 4.

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