Introduction to Southwest Virginia Project

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Southwest Virginia Project
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What is this about?

In a word: Context.

This is part of an extensive series of articles about genealogy in Southwest Virginia. The focus of these articles is about the personal and family history of the early settlers of the area, and their descendants. Like all genealogies, you can expect to find a substantial amount of DOB's and DOD's, parents, spouses and children, but that's not where the real emphasis lies. Rather, the emphasis is on providing the information needed to help understand their lives, and to help place them in the full context within which they lived---contextual genealogy if you will.

That means we want to present information that explains the historical and social circumstances in which they found themselves, and it also means we want to provide information about the physical, biological, and geographic conditions of the world in which they lived. Thus, when we find that a certain ancestor made a decision to settle in Powells Valley in 1773, rather than on the Clinch or Holston watersheds, we want to be able to provide the reader with the information that might be needed to help understand why their ancestors made that particular decision. Moreover, we want the reader to be able to explore some of the consequences of such decisions---not just for the settler and his immediate family, but for his descendants as well.

A word on Location

These articles are focused on the area commonly referred to as "Southwest Virginia". That includes the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Wise, Lee, Scott, Smyth, Russell, Tazewell and Washington Counties. What is included, and what is excluded from this definition, is basically determined by whether: a) its within the modern boundaries of Virginia, b) its west of the crest of the Blue Ridge mountain chain, and c) it includes the area contained within the original boundaries of Old Washington County, formed in 1777 from the now extinct Fincastle County. That said, there are exceptions to this definition. For example, most of Buchanan County lies within the ancestral boundary of Old Washington County; a small portion, however, lies beyond this boundary, but is included as part of Southwest Virginia, simply because you can't really separate this area from the rest of Buchanan. On the otherhand, a small sliver of Smythe County came from Old Washington County, and Tazewell County lies entirely beyond the boundary of Old Washington County. Many of the Washington County records during the settlement period include data for these areas, and its not practical to exclude them from consideration. Another exception lies in the far southeast corner of Old Washington County. Originally the eastern border of the county extended further to the southeast, crossing the Blue ridge to intercept the North Carolina line a bit further to the east of its current boundary. As originally created, Old Washington County included the furthest southwestern tip of modern Grayson County. People in this southwestern "toe" probably never considered themselves residents of Washington County, and they don't seem to appear in the early court records for Old Washington. This anonmaly was eliminated when Greyson County formed in 1793. As a result, we do not include this area in our definition of Southwest Virginia.

A word on Sources

Genealogists use lots of information. There are two main types of information being presented in these pages:

Genealogical information: DOBs and DODs, POBs, and PODs, not to mention DOMs, POMs, spouses, parents and children, etc.
Contextual information: historical, cultural, and environmental information needed to add dimension to our ancestors lives.

There is nothing more important in the process of doing good genealogy than being able to show where information is coming.

If you don't know how you know something, you don't know it

is a good adage to keep in mind. There's a corollary to that which is also good to keep in mind:

If you can't explain how you know something, you may not be believed

While this is not the place for a discussion of "Why We Source", two points are worth stressing. First, we source because its important for us to know where we got certain bits of information; that way, if the need arises, we can go back and recover that information in its original context, and see how it fits with new information. Second, we source because others need to be able to check to see if our answers are right; giving them the ability to double check what we've found and concluded, is the heart and core of doing good genealogy. Ideally, in these pages, we are going to show the sources of the information being presented.

For genealogical data, the emphasis here is on connecting information to primary sources and documentation (the BCG's "original sources"). That's a tough problem for genealogists, because no matter how much time we spend in dusty libraries, getting at the underlying primary sources is hard to do. Mostly, and particularly working at this scale, rather than the usual family genealogy, we have to rely on the work of others who have themselves visited those primary sources, and perhaps published copies of them, or perhaps have generated abstracts that we can examine. This is admitedly a second best approach, because even the most admirable work by others, in which they have carefully reduced thousands of records to a manageable set of abstracts, is not the same thing as looking at the original documents. And as admirable as those abstracts and transcriptions might be, the process of abstraction and transcription inevitably introduce errors. Indeed, even photocopies and microfilm of original documents are subject to reproduction errors. As a result, the term "primary source" is being used in a slightly expanded context. That is, we are considering transcriptions, abstracts, and similar treatments as surrogates for primary sources, and using the BCG's concept of "original sources", to refer exactly to that---the original documents on which transcriptions, etc are based.

Certain other works (e.g., Thwaites' "Life of Daniel Boone" contain conclusions and observations reached by the examination of primary sources, though the specific sources are sometimes not mentioned. We are treating these as reliable secondary resources. Well documented and researched family histories of any description, are considered tertiary sources; though they may contain valuable knowledge and insight, unless they include full quotations of original material, they are not considered fully reliable. When cited, we do so with the understanding that further work into the underlying sources is necessary.

A word on illustrations

"A picture is as good as a thousand words". A good illustration helps to convey a message with an immediacy that text alone can not provide. As a result, we are trying to include good illustrations, be they maps, drawings, photographs or paintings, throughout this project. On that note, we have attempted to find illustrations that are as specific as possible to southwest Virginia. Finding a GOOD illustration that is specific to southwest Virginia, is sometimes a challenge, particularly since we can not normally make use of copyrighted works. As a result, we often find that to get the right image we have to go further afield. As examples, the banner currently used for this project (above), is a wonderful shot of the Appalachian Mountains---unfortunately, it shows a vista in the Great Smoky National Park. The icon used to indicate "Cultural Environment" shows a fine old mountain woman with her "little wheel"---unfortunately, this picture was not taken in the Appalachians, but in Ireland. In both cases, we'd like to be able to use images specific to the area, but so far, these are the best we have been able to come up with. They convey the message, but for the purist, they aren't quite on target. Eventually we like to be on target, but until that time comes, the reader will have to tolerate such pictorial anachronisms.

Special Project Pages

A variety of special project pages have been developed to support the Southwest Virginia Project. These pages include: Disambiguation Pages, Location Specific Family Pages, and Notebook Pages. These pages are discussed at Explanation of Special Project Pages