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Posted: 1314885106000
Classification: Query
Surnames: Beatty, Swem, Burton,

This tip is courtesy of “Genealogy Gems” News from the Fort Wayne Library, No. 90, August 31, 2011. Since so many of the Kentucky settlers came from Virginia, I thought this would be of interest to you.

The “Swem Index”
by John D. Beatty
Virginia is a challenging state in which to research. While genealogists will find extensive published sources for many counties, including histories and record extracts, they also have to deal with the significant loss of original records through courthouse fires. However, many useful sources from the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, even for so-called “burned counties,” have been published in various periodicals and statewide sources.

The essential tool for accessing names in these sources is E. G. Swem’s “Virginia Historical Index” (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1965) (Gc 975.5 Sw41vi). Often referred to simply as the “Swem Index,” it provides access to tens of thousands of names, mostly for the colonial period, from several major Virginia periodical series: “Lower Norfolk County Antiquary,” the “Virginia Historical Register,” the “Virginia Magazine of History,” “Tyler’s Quarterly,” and the first and second series of the “William and Mary Quarterly.” These journals, in their early years, published a great variety of historical and genealogical information, including family histories and abstracts of numerous original records, manuscript letters, and articles of local interest on historical subjects. Swem also covered two major secondary sources for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the “Calendar of Virginia State Papers” and “Henning’s Statutes at Large,” both of
which contain legislative records from the House of Burgesses, including many names of petitioners and correspondents to that body.

Arrangement in the Swem Index is alphabetical. After each name, users will see a volume number of the source followed by a letter code for that source, then the page number where the name can be found. For example, among several references for Hutchins Burton, one will find
“8C120” and “17W(1)228.” The first indicates volume 8 of the “Calendar of Virginia State Papers,” page 120; the second refers to volume 17 of the “William and Mary Quarterly,” first series, page 228. Swem went beyond the simple listing of names to include a variety of subject
references to places and specific types of documents, such as family Bibles, slave records, and petitions. Again using the Hutchins Burton example, we find a reference specifically to his slaves in one entry.

The Swem Index is a useful tool for anyone doing research in colonial Virginia and should be one of the first sources consulted.


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