West Virginia History

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United States > West Virginia > West Virginia History

Brief History

The following important events in the history of West Virginia affected political jurisdictions, family movements, and record keeping. For information about the United States from prior to 1712 see the United States History page.

1712: Baron Christopher de Graffenreid visits the Eastern Panhandle looking for land for Swiss families. [1]For more information on immigration to West Virginia see the West Virginia Emigration and Immigration page.

1719: Presbyterians founded the first church in West Virginia, Potomoke Church at Shepherdstown. [1]

1731-1734: Morgan Morgan, the first white settler in West Virginia established a home in Berkeley County, Virginia. [2]
West Augusta.jpg
1738: Frederick and Augusta counties were formed from Orange County, Virginia. Frederick County included territory later in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia and began functioning in 1743. Augusta County encompassed all the area west of the Blue Ridge mountains north of the Carolinas and began functioning in 1745.

1753: Hampshire County, Virginia was created. This was the first county whose boundaries were within present-day West Virginia.

1775: West Augusta District was established by Virginia and include d all of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. Ownership of part of this district was disputed with Pennsylvania.

1779: Virginia ceded most of the northern part of West Augusta District to Pennsylvania after Pennsylvania agreed to accept land grants that Virginia had made in the disputed region.

1784: Virginia ceded its claims north of the Ohio River to the United States but reserved a section known as the Military District for Revolutionary War bounty land.

1788: Virginia ratified the constitution and became a state. For more information about the United States during the Colonial Times see the Colonial Times 1607-1789 page.

1800: 78,000 people in West Virginia , with 35,000 west of the Alleghenies. Existed 13 counties, 8 post offices, and 19 incorporated towns.

1801: Jefferson county was created from Berkeley county.

1803: First newspaper west of the Alleghenies is the Monongalia Gazette and Morgantown Advertiser.

1804: Mason county was created from Kanawha county.
Proposed state of kanawha.jpg
1818: The Cumberland Road (or National Road) was completed from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling. Counties were changed with Preston county being created from Monongalia county and Nicholas county was created from Greenbrier, Kanawha, Randolph Counties. Charles Town renamed Charleston.

1861-1865:  In a dispute over secession, fifty western counties broke off to form the “restored government of Virginia,” which remained loyal to the Union. The state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union in 1863. During the Civil War, about 32,000 West Virginia soldiers enlisted in the Union Army, while 9,000 served the Confederacy. For more information about the Civil War see the United States Civil War, 1861 to 1865 page.

1870s: Industrial expansion in West Virginia attracted Black immigrants from southern states and European immigrants from overseas.

1898: The Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines. West Virginia had 3,004 soldiers serve.

1917–1918: West Virginia men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I had over 58,053 men and women from West Virginia serve during the war.

Wikipedia has more about this subject: The Great Depression
closed many factories and mills. Many small farms were abandoned, and many families moved to cities.

1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II.

1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.

1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.

1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.

Local Histories

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search. Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies. The United States Research "History" page cites nationwide bibliographies of local histories which include histories of West Virginia .

  • West Virginia History: a bibliography and guide to research [3]
  • Bibliography of Local History and Genealogy [4]This is a helpful index to books and articles on West Virginia families.
  • A Bibliography of American County Histories [5] [6]
  • United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress [7][8]

To determine county boundary changes, see:

  • West Virginia County Formations and Boundary Changes [9]

State Histories Useful to Genealogists

Good genealogists strive to understand the life and times of their ancestors. In this sense, any history is useful. But certain kinds of state, county, and local histories, especially older histories published between 1845 and 1945, often include biographical sketches of prominent individuals. The sketches usually tend toward the laudatory, but may include some genealogical details. If these histories are indexed or alphabetical, check for an ancestor's name. Some examples for the State of West Virginia are:

  • Making a State: Formation of West Virginia [10]
  • The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia [11]This primarily includes biographical and geographical sketches from other published sources. This serves as a partial index to the Supplemental Series.
  • The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia: Supplemental Series [12] This contains reprints of several articles and books related to West Virginia history and people.
  • West Virginia: A History. [13]
  • Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars. [14]
  • Chronicles of Border Warfare [15]

To find more books and articles about West Virginia's history use the Internet Google search for phases like "West Virginia history." Family History Library Catalog Surname Search lists many more histories under topics like:


Web Sites


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bushong, Millard Kessler. A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia [1719-1940]. Heritage Books, 2008. ISBN 0788422502, 9780788422508. Pages 438. Limited view digital version is available at Google Books At various libraries (WorldCat)
  2. West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State. West Virginia Federal Writers' Project. Jim Comstock, 1973. Pages 559. Full text digital version at Google Books
  3. Forbes, Harold M. West Virginia History: a bibliography and guide to research. Morgantown, West Virginia; West Virginia University Press, 1981. FHL book 975.4 H2f
  4. Daughters of the American Revolution, West Virginia. Bibliography of Local History and Genealogy. N.p.: 1965. FHL film 940922
  5. Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985. (FHL book 973 H23bi)
  6. At various libraries (WorldCat)
  7. Kaminkow, Marion J. United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress. 5 vols. Baltimore: Magna Charta Book, 1975-76. (FHL book 973 A3ka.)
  8. At various libraries (WorldCat)
  9. West Virginia County Formations and Boundary Changes. Charleston, West Virginia: Historical Records Survey, 1939 FHL film 1573628; book 975.4 E2h
  10. Sims, Edgar Barr. Making a State: Formation of West Virginia.Charleston, West Virginia : E.B. Sims, 1956. FHL book 975.4 R2s
  11. Comstock, Jim F. The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia. 25 volumes. Richwood, West Virginia: 1976. FHL fiche 6051466-490; book 975.4 H26w
  12. Comstock, Jim F. The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia: Supplemental Series. 25 volumes. Richwood, West Virginia: 1974. FHL volumes 12-13 on film 1321160 item 9; volumes 1-25 on fiche 6051350; book 975.4 H26wa
  13. Rice, Otis K. West Virginia: A History. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1985. FHL book 975.4 H2ric
  14. Doddridge, Joseph. Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars. With a memoir of the author by his daughter Narcissa Doddridge, republished with the addition of new and valuable material by John S. Ritenour and Wm. T. Lindsey, Pittsburgh, PA., 1912; reprinted 1960, 1970, 1976, 1996 by McLain Printing Company, Parsons, WV. FHL fiche 6049128; book 973 H2do
  15. Withers, Alexander Scott, Chronicles of Border Warfare edited and annotated by Reuben Gold Thwaites. The Robert Clarke Company, Cincinnati, OH, 1895; reprinted 1961, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1989 by McLain Printing Company, Parsons, WV. FHL fiche 6067169; book 975.5 H2wc 1961