The early lives of many of the Woodys that migrated to the Blue Ridge region of Virginia after about 1760 are very close to a complete mystery. Reconstructing the movements of Henry Woody, as he migrated from Goochland to Franklin, was accomplished mainly through the use of land records. Recent yDNA comparisons prove that Henry was closely related to some of these "mystery" Woodys. Although there were several notable exceptions, the vast majority of the these Woodys seemed to have been itinerant farmers that moved from place to place searching for the best return for their labor. For this reason, many of them did not own land, so there are very few recorded land transactions involving Woodys during this period. Besides the above mentioned Henry Woody of Franklin County, the early Woodys that left wills were: James of Pittsylvania County, David of Person County, North Carolina and Simon, Moor, John and Micajah of Hanover County. Woodys were seldom mentioned in other probate proceedings. Before about 1853, vital records are virtually nonexistent. Some of the material presented on this page overlaps with Woody Family Roots, which focuses on the history and genealogy of Henry and William Woody and their descendants.
To understand the scant information that is available, a good understanding of 18th century Virginia county formation is essential. A very accurate depiction of this formation is available at the Newberry Library -Virginia Historical Counties Interactive Map website. Henrico County, an original Virginia shire created in 1634, remained intact for over ninety years until Goochland County was created from western Henrico in 1728. New Kent County was formed in 1654 and remained unchanged until Hanover County was formed from western New Kent 1721. It is important to note that Goochland/Henrico were never part of Hanover/New Kent or visa versa.
In contrast to the complete geographic separation of Goochland/Henrico and Hanover/New Kent described above, later Virginia county formation and boundary changes resulted in locations that were in two or three different counties in the space of a few years. During the latter half of the 18th century, the population of the western frontier of Virginia was growing quickly. This growth necessitated the rather rapid formation of new counties. In 1744, Albemarle was formed from Goochland. In the central Blue Ridge region, Albemarle begat Amherst and Buckingham in 1761 and Fluvanna in 1777. Nelson was created from Amherst in 1808. A little further south, Lunenburg contributed Bedford in 1754 and Halifax in 1766. Pittsylvania came from Halifax in 1767 and Henry came from Pittsylvania in 1777. In 1786, Franklin was formed from Bedford and Henry. These boundary changes, coupled with the lack of records and the nomadic movements of the Woodys, make research very challenging.
A good example of the effect of county formation on our research is the Byrd Creek home of John Woody. Captain William Bird/Byrd first patented the property in Henrico in 1656. This area became Goochland County in 1728, Albemarle County in 1744 and finally Fluvanna County in 1777.
In general, decennial census records begin in 1790 and are helpful; however, the 1800 census of Virginia is not extant. Original census records are much more useful than alphabetized copies since they preserve the relative locations of those people enumerated. Pre-1850 censuses only give the name of the head-of-household with the rest of the inhabitants separated into age groups so, at best, they only provide a snapshoot every ten tears. However, post Revolutionary War personal property and land tax records for almost all of the Virginia counties are extant. These tax records start about 1782 and, since taxes were collected each year, the records are very constructive in tracking the movements of individuals from one location to another. Also, tax records usually denote the death of the taxpayer by the words "estate". Some deed records are also extant. As mentioned, only a few Woody deed records have been found, but these few have been very useful. However, the Woodys seemed to be quite adept at avoiding the census enumerators and tax collectors. We have not found a Woody Bible record for this period, but Woodys are mentioned in other Bible records. Marriage bonds and certificates usually provide more information than extracted marriage records. The pension and land warrant applications of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans are extremely informative, but very few Woodys lived long enough to apply for these benefits. Vital records for most counties start about 1853; however many people simply did not report births and deaths. From the standpoint of identifying early relationships, death records are especially helpful since the decedent's age, birthplace and parents names were usually, but not always, recorded. However, many years are missing from these records.
More than any other state, Virginia has suffered the destructive effects of war in America. Burning courthouses was one of the favorite pastimes of invading armies in the American Revolution, the War or 1812 and the Civil War. However, in every sense, the Civil War created the most destruction to life and property and since many of the fiercest battles occurred in the area surrounding Richmond, the counties of Hanover, Henrico and New Kent were especially effected. The archivists at The Library of Virginia has categorized the " Lost Record Localities". The counties with "catastrophic loss" are Appomattox, Buchanan, Buckingham, Caroline, Charles City, Dinwiddie, Elizabeth, Fairfax, Gloucester, Hanover, James City County/Williamsburg, King and Queen, King William, Matthews, Nansemond, New Kent, Nottoway, Prince George, Richmond County, Stafford and Warwick. The counties and cities with "considerable loss" are Accomack, Albemarle, Bland, Botetourt, Brunswick, Craig, Culpepper, Henrico, Isle of Wight, King George, Mecklenburg, Northumberland, Richmond (City), Rockingham, Russell, Spotsylvania, Surry, Washington, Westmoreland and York. In our area of research interest, examples of courthouse fires that resulted in nearly complete destruction of earlier records are the Buckingham fire in 1869 and the Richmond fire in 1865.
The common law statutes of primogeniture that existed in Colonial Virginia dictated that, after the widow's one-third dower, the real property of an individual that died intestate (without a will) went to his eldest son. If the eldest son was dead, the real property passed to that person's eldest son. Of course, a will could be used to distribute an estate, but many people of moderate means did not execute a will. By far, the most valuable asset that most individuals could own was real property (land) and for landowners, their second most valuable asset was their slaves. The specifics of most wills dealt with the division of these two assets. Almost all Woody landowners did execute wills; however, the vast majority of Woodys were not land or slave owners and these individuals did not write wills. Moreover, deeds and court records relating to land transfers form the major portion of the scanty records that have survived and are available to the researcher. Obviously, these types of records do not exist for landless Woodys. A few tithe records have survived, but these are very few and far between. Unfortunately, the primogeniture laws and the severe loss of records have created a situation whereby our knowledge of the Woodys in Colonial America is mainly based on those eldest sons that inherited land. The brothers and sisters of these eldest sons can be virtually invisible.
The Woodys were not wealthy or famous and many of them were not land owners. Many were probably squatters that farmed land that was not being cultivated by the owner. Squatting was part of the common land tradition of both the English and Gaelic laboring people. Toby Terrar explains this situation in his enlightening article First in War: Laboring People and the American Revolution as an Agrarian Reform Movement in Amherst County, Virginia and Sumter County, South Carolina:
"As settlement edged toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, the formation of new counties beyond the fall line extended tidewater institutions into the west. The piedmont frontier was developed less by poor farmers in search of opportunity than by the colony's leading families, such as the Randolphs, Carters, Pages, and Nicholases, who acquired the best acreage along the rivers. The piedmont became an area of immense tobacco estates, some as large as thirteen thousand acres. Much of the colony's land was granted in huge parcels to speculators, such as Robert ("King") Carter, William Byrd II, and William Beverley, but non-Virginians, such as Jacob Stover, of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Borden, of New Jersey, acquired extensive landholdings in the Valley of Virginia, that fertile region between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies explored in 1716 by Governor Alexander Spotswood and his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. The Amherst landlords estimated they needed 50 acres for each field hand and at least twenty slaves before hiring an overseer. Slaves sold for £30, cost £6 yearly to maintain, and could net £14 in yearly profit in the 1760s and 1770s. Thus the smallest economic unit for capitalist agriculture complete with overseer and slaves was approximately 1,000 acres, considerably larger than the holdings of nearly all Amherst residents in the eighteenth century. Squatter occupancy was one of the reasons that half of Virginia's white population in the 1770s had no recorded land. Even working people who bought or rented, boycotted the magnate-dominated county courts."
As discussed above, many Virginia counties have suffered a massive loss of
genealogical related records. Although many Woodys did not own land, some did
and their land transaction records can somewhat offset the absence of other
records. When available, we make significant use of land records, especially the
Land Office Patents and Grants/Northern Neck Grants and Surveys
database online at the Library of Virginia. We
also use published deed transcriptions and microfilms of original deeds. In
addition to the location of the property, these land transaction records usually
mention the names of nearby property owners. Since neighbors tended to migrate
together, this information can be used to identify and separate Woodys
with the same given names. This information greatly assists in
sorting out the Woody lines and their westward movements.
However, as mentioned above, a very good understanding of the formation of new Virginia counties in
the 18th century is essential maximizing the usefulness of the land transaction
data. We use both old and modern maps to try and pinpoint the locations
mentioned in the patents, grants and deeds. The
Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) search capability at the
United States Geological Survey (USGS)
web site is very useful, since the landmarks mentioned in land transactions
usually can be be identified and plotted on a modern Google map.
Fortunately, the Woodys did associate with a few of relatively well known people of the time. The family histories of most of these people have been documented and some of the evidence presented below comes from this documentation. This evidence is complex and, at times, difficult to follow.
We are able to get some source material via the Interlibrary Loan System (ILL) and we also rent many filmed records from the LDS Family History Catalog. This research is time consuming and somewhat costly to do. If you have the time and means to aid this project, your assistance is welcomed. If your family history investigations have been limited to copying the research of others, here is an opportunity to expand your horizons. You can become acquainted with the joys and disappointments of basic research. We will be glad to suggest research avenues and coordinate activities so we do not to duplicate our efforts. All it takes is time and a little money.
We are obsessive about details. Many isolated facts concerning the Woodys have been published by the various Virginia genealogical and historical societies. These publications are available in these societies headquarters and in local libraries. When combined with other information, seemingly insignificant small details can be the keys to solving very complex genealogical puzzles. If you have the opportunity to search any of these publications, please pass along your findings.
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Revised Jan 14, 2012
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