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Chalkley's Chronicles

Lyman Chalkley’s three-volume Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, 1745-1800 (Rosslyn, Va., 1912-1913; reprint, 1965)  is a popular reference work that contains abstracts taken from the Augusta County court records. Chalkley’s Chronicles may serve as a useful source for leads and to identify original records to consult, but there are many reasons to exercise caution when using it.

Before the publication of the Chronicles, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which had been approached to become the publisher, commissioned genealogist and historian Thomas Forsythe Nelson to make an analysis of the work. Nelson’s detailed evaluation, in which the Society as well as Herbert Putnam, who was then the Librarian of Congress, and historian J. Franklin Jameson all concurred, was that the typescript of Chalkley’s abstracts that had been submitted should not be published. Nelson found that the abstracts contained an abundance of transcription errors, erroneous dates, misspelled names, material omissions, and other serious mistakes. He concluded that the abstracts were “condensed to the point of mutilation” and that many entries misrepresented the contents of the original documents.

Nelson also pointed out that Chalkley had abstracted only some of the records that pertained to persons and families in which he was interested. Publication of the abstracts could easily lead to the erroneous conclusion that the absence in the abstracts of information about a person or a family meant that there was no information on the person or family in the county court’s records.

Nelson’s whole report, containing detailed comparisons between Chalkley’s abstracts and the original records, was published as a substantial pamphlet under the authority of the 21st Congress, National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution (Washington, D.C., 1912) with the title Report on the Chalkley Manuscripts.

Mary Smith Lockwood, an honorary vice-president-general of the Society, nevertheless proceeded on her own to have the typescript of Chalkley’s abstracts published in the familiar three-volume edition.

Many users have no doubt concluded wrongly, as Nelson predicted, that the absence of references in Chalkley’s Chronicles indicated a lack of data; and many other users have certainly been mislead by using Chalkley’s faulty abstracts and not consulting the original records. Chalkley’s Chronicles can be a valuable resource if it is used as a first finding aid for citations but not as a correct reproduction or representation of the full rich entries in the county court’s original manuscript records.

An online series on Research in Virginia Documents.
Prepared by Daphne Gentry, Publications and Education Services Division.
Copyright by The Library of Virginia; this note may be reproduced in full if proper credit is given and no changes are made.

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