In the Commonwealth of Virginia, all municipalities incorporated as "cities" are by law (since 1871) independent cities. Other Virginia municipalities, even though they may be more populous than some existing independent cities, are incorporated as "towns," which are always located within a county. Of the approximately 43 independent cities in the United States, 39 are in Virginia. An independent city in Virginia may serve as the county seat of an adjacent county, even though the city by definition is not part of that county. The date ranges during which records were kept in independent cities can be found in Ancestry's Redbook and The Handybook for Genealogists.
The confusion with Virginia's independent cities lies in the fact that some cities and counties have the same name. For instance, Richmond City and Richmond County are not overlapping jurisdictions, but are about 70 miles apart. In order to circumvent your confusion while doing Virginia research, keep in mind a few things. Sometimes records in adjacent cities and states should be searched for an ancestor who lived in an independent city, such as searching in Sullivan County, Tennessee and Washington County, Virginia for a Bristol (independent city), Virginia resident. Also, watch out for court records in regional courts which may include the independent city and several counties.
A few more specific hints to remember about independent city research include:
Five Virginia counties are completely consumed by independent cities:
Some independent cities serve as county seats:
These Independent Cities do not maintain records, but that doesn't mean genealogists have not compiled records for these cities:
The 39 independent cities of Virginia can be a hurdle for researchers, but with a little background knowledge, researching in Virginia can be as easy as a road trip to Richmond on Interstate 64.
Lyndon H. Hart III and J. Christian Kolbe, comps., A Preliminary Guide to Pre-1904 Municipal Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond, VA: Virginia State Library and Archives, 1987)
Emily J. Salmon, ed., A Hornbook of Virginia History, 3rd ed. (Richmond, VA: Virginia State Library, 1983.)
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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