Discovery of Papers Sheds Light on Highland County History

Monterey, VA – Highland county resident Clay Hamilton has local family roots that go back hundreds of years. His interest in Highland, Bath and Augusta county history has made him a frequent visitor to area county courthouses. It was on just such a visit in Monterey several years ago that he made a discovery that led to his latest book on Highland County death records from 1853 to 1898. In the courthouse record room he noticed a bundle of rolled up papers in a cubbyhole behind a file cabinet. After they were removed, Mr. Hamilton made an interesting discovery.

“I looked at it and immediately recognized it as a bundle of rolled-up death records,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton contacted a friend who works with historical documents and was able to get the rolled papers to relax and lay flat.

“We were able to go through them and find that they comprised death records that had been unrecorded in the record books dating from 1871 through 1898,” Hamilton said.

In addition to helping those doing genealogy research on their family history, death records can also provide insights into significant historical events in the county. Mr. Hamilton goes on to describe how these records revealed a major typhoid and diphtheria outbreak swept through Highland and Bath counties at the outset of the Civil War.

“In just two short years, we had 178 people die from either diphtheria or typhoid fever,” he said. “Most of these were children. And in some cases, the children all were taken by that disease.”

In the family of William C. and Mary Jones, of Highland County, all five children died from diphtheria in just the two months of August and September of 1861.

Other interesting situations were discovered as well.

“On the more humorous side,” Hamilton continued, “there was a man who died in Hightown in 1884. Cause of death: ‘mean whiskey.’ That’s a little warning to everyone; know what you’re drinking.”

Of significant historical interest to civil war researchers, is the fact that there are many Highland county death records from civil war soldiers.

Mr. Hamilton has shared his genealogy expertise with Highland county residents in workshops.

Mr. Hamilton stressed how important it is for people to save family records. As documents are passed down through the generations they are often lost, taking away a rich historical resource, not only for family members, but for future researchers investigating Virginia history. So take steps to insure that your family’s records are protected and saved.

Mr. Hamilton’s book of Highland county death records from 1850 to 1898 is available from the publisher, Heritage Books of Westminster Maryland.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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