West Virginia History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium

Until 1863, West Virginia’s history is Virginia’s history. While many of the other states joined the Union as territories created out of nothingness, West Virginia took existing counties — 50 in all — and broke away from Virginia. These counties formed the “restored government of Virginia,” and Congress admitted West Virginia to the Union on June 20, 1863.

All but the five counties of West Virginia created after June 1863 — Grant, Lincoln, Mineral, Mingo, and Summers — were first subject to the laws of the state of Virginia. This affects the types of records that were maintained and the court or clerk who was responsible for them. This also means that, with the exception of those five counties, you may find records for your West Virginia ancestor in Virginia.

(click to enlarge)
west virginia state map with county outlines


  • West Virginia is the only state in which county records greatly predate the existence of the state. In some ways this makes researching easier when dealing with records that remained in the county. But never assume that all the records are in that county. Always turn your attention to records and repositories in Virginia, as well.
  • If you know your ancestor’s religion, check the holdings of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection at the West Virginia University, Box 6069, 1549 University Ave., Morgantown, WV 26506,
  • Though West Virginia broke away from Virginia over seceding from the Union, an estimated 10,000 soldiers fought for the Confederacy.
  • Newspapers can often be used as a record alternative, and not just for vital records. To learn more about newspapers and where you can find them today, consult Newspapers in the West Virginia University Library (West Virginia University Library, 1964).


  • Federal census: 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890


  • A Bibliography of West Virginia, 2 parts, by Innis C. Davis (West Virginia Department of Archives and History, 1939)
  • Church Records Survey, West Virginia, Episcopal, Protestant, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian from the Historical Records Survey (filmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1961)
  • Finding Your People in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and West Virginia by Rebecca H. Good and Rebecca Ebert (The Rebecca Co., 1984)
  • Genealogical and Personal History of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia, 3 vols., by Bernard Lee Butcher (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912)
  • A Guide to Church Records in the Archives Branch of the Virginia State Library by Newell T. Clark and Elizabeth Terry Long (Virginia State Library, 1981)
  • Guide to Manuscripts and Archives in the West Virginia Collection by James W. Hess (West Virginia University Library, 1974)
  • Guide to the Study of West Virginia History by Charles Shetler (West Virginia University Library, 1960)
  • A Handbook for Genealogical Research in West Virginia by Helen S., Stinson (Kanawha Valley Genealogical Society, 1981)
  • History of the Great Kanawha Valley: With Family History and Biographical Sketches, 2 vols., (Brant, Fuller & Co., 1891)
  • A History and Record of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Virginia by George W. Peterkin (Tribune Co., 1902)
  • History of West Virginia, Old and New, 3 vols., by James Morton Callahan (American Historical Society, 1923)
  • Index to Printed Virginia Genealogies by Robert Armistead Stewart (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970)
  • Loyal West Virginia from 1861 to 1865 by Theodore F. Lang (Deutsch, 1895)
  • Making a State: Formation of West Virginia, Including Maps, Illustrations, Plates and the Acts of the Virginia Assembly and the Legislature of West Virginia Creating the Counties by Edgar Barr Sims (Edgar Barr Sims, 1956)
  • Men of West Virginia, 2 vols., (Biographical Publishing Co., 1903)
  • Obituaries from newspapers of Northern West Virginia, 2 vols., by W. Guy Tetrick (W.G. Tetrick, 1933)
  • Prominent Men of West Virginia by George Wesley Atkinson (W.L. Callin, 1890)
  • Timesaving Aid to Virginia-West Virginia Ancestors: A Genealogical Index of Surnames from Published Sources, 4 vols., by Patrick G. Wardell (Iberian Publishing Co., 1990)
  • Virginia Genealogical Resources by Stuart E. Brown Jr (Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1980)
  • Virginia Genealogies, A Trial List of Printed Books and Pamphlets, 3 vols., by Stuart E. Brown Jr. (Virginia Book Co., 1967-89)
  • Virginians & West Virginians, 1607-1870 by Patrick G. Wardell (Heritage Books, 1986-1992)
  • West Virginia Genealogy Sources and Resources by Carol McGinnis (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1988)
  • The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia compiled and edited by Jim Comstock (Comstock, 1976)
  • West Virginia: A History by Otis K. Rice (University Press of Kentucky, 1985)
  • West Virginia History: A Guide to Research by Harold M. Forbes (West Virginia University Press, 1981)
  • West Virginia and Its People, 3 vols., by Thomas Condit Miller and Hu Maxwell (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1913)
  • West Virginia Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.

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