Reminder: This source contains three volumes, therefore citations should specify volume in addition to page number.
About this source
This three-volume reference work contains abstracts compiled by Judge Lyman Chalkley from the original Court Records of Augusta County, Virginia. In 1905, these abstracts were purchased by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution who eventually had them analyzed before publication. Genealogist Thomas Forsythe Nelson was commissioned for this task and his 24-page report written in 1912 (available at Ancestry.com) advised against publication, calling it a "misdirected effort if not folly."
Criticizing the abstracts, saying they were condensed to the "extreme limit" even "to the point of mutilation," Nelson wrote that "it must not be understood that these Chalkley MSS. are to be wholly condemned. They have their value but that value is of a much lower character than has been claimed for them. Should they be published as they are, the necessity for consulting the original records will not be diminished but rather increased because it must be clearly apparent to all that they do not now contain all the data the further search of the original records at Staunton will produce." (Nelson:2-3)
Daphne Gentry of the Publications and Education Services Division, Library of Virginia, suggests that "many users have no doubt concluded wrongly, as Nelson predicted, that the absence of references in Chalkley's Chronicles indicated a lack of data; and many other users have certainly been mislead by using Chalkley's faulty abstracts and not consulting the original records."
After receiving Nelson's report, the Society decided not to publish Chalkley's abstracts but instead unanimously voted that the "manuscripts, the corrected pages, and the copies thereof be turned over to Mrs. Mary S. Lockwood, honorary vice president general, as a gift outright." (Fifteenth Report:50-51) Mrs. Lockwood was a strong proponent of Chalkley's abstracts and it was through her efforts that the manuscript made it to publication, for which many researchers are no doubt grateful.
The conclusion to using Chalkley as a reference source is the same as with any secondary source. Careful research, obtaining original documents whenever possible, means that these abstracts can be a valuable tool if it is used with the understanding that they do not represent the whole of the Court Records of Augusta County, Virginia and therefore are best used as a finding aid for further research.
As a side note, Proceedings of the Twentieth Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution, April 17-22, 1911, records the lively debate that centered around the publication of Chalkley's manuscripts.
In the " lively debate that centered around the publication of Chalkley's manuscripts", as pointed to in the above paragraph, Nelson criticizes the work for being "incomplete", "misleading" and therefor "inaccurate". Doubtless, there are errors in Chalkley; it is a very large work, done by a single individual, apparently working alone, and attempting to distill a massive amount of information into a few volumes. Almost certainly he got some things wrong. However, Nelson's criticism is primarily directed to the fact that Chalkley's Chronicles is an "abstraction", and not a verbatim transcription. This criticism could be made of almost all genealogical publications that come to hand. Very few authors attempt to transcribe verbatim an entire set of county records. Indeed, if they did, the resulting work would be exhorbitantly expensive, and probably so voluminous as to make the work difficult to use, even if it were available. Abstracts, by their nature, are designed to eliminate information. That may be regret-able, (apparently Nelson thought so), but if you want a useful work there's a need to eliminate unnecessary detail, allowing the reader to focus on the information of interest. There is not a great deal of utility in transcribing stock phrases that abound in court records The art of the abstractor is to focus the readers attention on the import aspects of the record. In this, Chalkley seems to have done an admirable job. This does not alleviate the need for the genealogist to examine the original records, but it certainly makes it easier to identify which records need to be examined more closely. It would be of considerable interest if some subset of the original records were to be compared directly to Chalkely's abstractions to see whether useful information has indeed been lost, and to otherwise test their accuracy. Q 11:32, 30 January 2009 (EST)