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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adventures in Genealogy: Finding James Drake

File:Falls of the James, Downtown Richmond, Virginia, 2008.JPG
Richmond, Virginia
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you decide to have an adventure.  Of course, if you have a particularly ingenious spouse, they may suggest the adventure.  So let me tell you a story...about what I did today.

One night, a few weeks back, I was out poking around on Find-a-Grave, as I am sure many of you have done.  This particular night I got a hit for the possible burial location of James Drake, my 6th great grandfather.  It gave me a lead that he was at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.  He died in Powhatan County but who knows, he could have been buried here since he was a prominent figure.  Also, this church is a national historic site because it was where Patrick Henry gave his “give me liberty or give me death” speech.  All I could think was how exciting it would be to stroll around the grounds, take some pictures, and if I was really lucky see his tombstone.

Days passed and I was getting ready to go to Richmond for an errand this morning when my husband suggested that I stop by the church.  I was going to be in the area after all, why didn’t I just pop on over there and see what I could find.  Yeah, that sounded like a plan, how hard could it be?  Just a few minutes, maybe an hour, perusing the area and then I would drive home.  Well, best laid plans and all that, this is not quite what happened.
File:RichmondVA StJohnsChurch.jpg
St. Johns Church
From wikimedia commons

I strolled up to the visitor’s center and boldly asked for help.  Enthusiastically I explained that I was looking for information on internments and that I thought I had an ancestor located in the cemetery.  A very nice woman, dressed in colonial attire, gave me a very fat old book to look through.  It was the index of the internments, and James was not in it.  I was crushed.  Another member of the church staff gave me the number for the church office and said I should talk to them.  Maybe they could give me a lead or I could talk to their archivist.  It was at this point that I realized I had only put half of my new found knowledge of cemetery research into practice.  However, I was doing this on a whim and not nicely planned out.  Next time I would be on top of my game.

After perusing the bookstore (I couldn’t help myself) I went out to the street and called the number written on the piece of paper.  I repeated my story to the lady on the phone and she asked me if I was standing outside on the corner.  Well, they could have told me the office was just across the street.  In I went, and sadly they had no information for me either.  However, she suggested I drive over to the Virginia Historical Society.  They had the early parish records there and maybe, just maybe, they could help me locate him. 

15 minutes later I was there, checked in, and asking my questions to the reference librarian.  She was stumped too.  There were no parish death records for the time frame I was looking for.  However, we found him listed in the “VirginiaWills and Administrations 1632-1800.”  I was told this was a good thing, but that the Historical Society could not help me.  To get this information I would need to go to the Virginia State Library, back the way I had come. Yes, I had already driven by it…twice.  Well, off I went.

To be honest, I have been meaning to go to the Library of Virginia for, well, a couple years but I have just never got around to it.  Since I was there I went ahead and got my library card so I can do more research there and from home.  I was giddy!  Looking at the clock I had an hour, just an hour, until I had to leave so that I would make it home in time to get my kids from school.  No pressure.

Once again the research librarian pointed me to the microfilm for the wills of Powhatan County, Virginia.  Those from 1797 were on book 2 of the reel.  Great!  This will take no time.  30 minutes later I still hadn’t found him.  Back to the desk to ask for more help, and I get taken to the index.  THE INDEX!  I could have saved 30 minutes of my life because it told us…he didn’t have a will.  Perplexing a librarian seems to be the name of the game today, however after a quick computer search he found that James Drake was listed in the deed books for that year.  Lesson:  don’t assume that your record is where it should be.  There wasn’t a will, but an inventory of the estate at the time of his death on page 375-7 of deed book 2.

I downloaded the three ledger pages to my thumb drive and got the heck out of dodge.  Best of all, I made it home in time to meet the school bus.  Whew!  Now to go through what I saved since there was no time to look through it then.  Wonder what I will find?  Also, I still need to find out about the James Drake who is now MIA from the cemetery.


  1. What a fun day! I am laughing at myself as I read. My kids are 18 months and almost 4. I can't wait for them to be in school so I can go on an adventure like yours. I guess this is a case of "you know you are a genealogist when..."

    1. Yes, this phase in my life has been a few years coming. I didn’t think I would enjoy my freedom so much, but to be out in the world sans kids for a few hours has been heavenly. Grocery shopping is fantastic too!