Because of the unique way in which West Virginia was created, many of the same problems with Virginia records affect pre-1863 West Virginia records. When it comes to census records, the first true West Virginia enumeration is for 1870. Prior to 1870 you need to turn your attention to census records for Virginia.
While birth and death recording in West Virginia began in 1853, these vital events were recorded until 1900 — offering four more years of records than counties remaining in Virginia. Statewide registration began on Jan. 1, 1917, but a fire destroyed many records at the state level through 1921. When requesting vital records, it’s better to contact the county clerk for anything recorded before 1921.
Marriages were generally recorded from the inception of each county. You can search birth, marriage and death records from many counties and years at the Division of Culture and History website at http://www.wvculture.org/vrr.
Although West Virginia was created long after the United States, it is one of those exception states — called “state-land states” — where the federal government did not get to sell the land first.
This is primarily because the counties trace their origins back to when there were colonies rather than states, and it wasn’t until after the end of the American Revolution that the federal government existed and began to have a hand in selling land. Early land grants have been indexed in Sims’ Index to Land Grants in West Virginia. Edgar Barr Sims was the State Auditor for West Virginia at various times in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and his index was published in 1952. It includes grants made by Lord Fairfax before the creation of the Virginia Land Office. The index is arranged by county and lists the grantee, number of acres, local description, year, book, and page numbers. Probate and court records, as well as the courts that are responsible for them, have simply carried over from when West Virginia was part of Virginia. Will books are available on microfilm through a number of West Virginia repositories and the Family History Library.
- The 1787 Census of Virginia: an Accounting of the Names of Every White Male Tithable Over 21 Years, 3 vols., by Netti Schreiner-Yantis and Florence Speakman Love (Genealogical Books-in-Print, 1987)
- Heads of Families. . . . Records of the State Enumerations; 1782 to 1785, Virginia, (Southern Book Co., 1952)
- Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987)
- A Supplement to the 1810 Census of Virginia: Tax Lists of the Counties for Which the Census is Missing by Netti Schreiner-Yantis (Genealogical Books-in-Print, 1971)
- Virginians in 1800; Counties of West Virginia by Steven A. Bridges (Steven A. Bridges, 1987)
- Virginia Tax Payers, 1782-87, Other than Those Published by the United States Census Bureau by Augusta B. Fothergill and John Mark Naugle (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1966)
- Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia: Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, 1754-1800 by Lyman Chalkley (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980)
- Dyer’s Index to Land Grants in West Virginia by M.H. Dyer (Higginson Book Co., 1996)
- Sims’ Index to Land Grants in West Virginia by Edgar B. Sims (Auditor’s Office, 1952)
- Making a State: Formation of West Virginia by Edgar B. Sims (E.B. Sims, 1956)
- Misc. Land Records, 1748-1912 from the West Virginia State Auditor (filmed by the Family History Library)
- Gazetteer of West Virginia by Henry Gannett (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975)
- Making a State: Formation of West Virginia by Edgar B. Sims (Edgar B. Sims, 1956)
- New Descriptive Atlas of West Virginia, (Clarksburg Publishing Co., 1933)
- West Virginia County Formations and Boundary Changes from the West Virginia Historical Records Survey (1938)
- West Virginia County Maps compiled by C.J. Puetz (Thomas Publishing Co., 1990)
- West Virginia Place Names, Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains by Hamill Kenny (Place Name Press, 1945)
- Military Records of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, 1775-1920 by Hazel Groves Hansrote (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975)
- Reminiscences of Confederate Service, 1861-1865 by Francis Warrington Dawson (University Publications of America, 1990)
- The Soldiery of West Virginian the French And Indian War, Lord Dunmore’s War, The Revolution, the War with Mexico by Virgil A. Lewis in Third Biennial Report Of the State Department of Archives and History, pages 39- 118 (Reprint: Genealogical Publishing Co.)
- War of 1812: Virginia Bounty Land & Pension Applicants: A Quick Reference Guide to Ancestors Having War of 1812 Service Who Served, Lived, Died, or Married in Virginia or West Virginia by Patrick G. Wardell (Heritage Books, 1987)
- West Virginia in the Civil War by Boyd B. Stutler (Educational Foundation, 1963)
- West Virginians in the Revolution compiled by Ross B. Johnston (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977)
- West Virginia Revolutionary Ancestors Whose Services Were Non-Military by Anne Waller Reddy (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1963)
- Early West Virginia Wills by K.T.H. McFarland (Closson Press, 1993)
- Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632-1800 by Clayton Torrence (1930; Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965)
- Birth Certificates and Delayed Birth Certificates, 1852-1930 from the West Virginia Division of Vital Statistics (filmed by the Family History Library, 1994-1995)
- Inventory of Public Vital Statistics Records in West Virginia, 2 vols., from the Historical Record Survey (West Virginia Historical Records Survey, 1941-1942)
- Obituaries form Newspapers of Northern West Virginia: Principally from the Counties of Barbour, Braxton, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis, Nichols, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Ritchie, Taylor, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur, Webster and parts of Marion, Wetzel and Wirt, 2 vols., by W. Guy Tetrick (W.G. Tetrick, 1933)
- Roster of Confederate Graves, 7 vols., from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (United Daughters of the Confederacy, Georgia Division, 1995)
- West Virginia, 1863-1900 [Marriages] (Broderbund, 1999. CD-ROM)