Genealogical Clues in Ledger Books

Heather Singley / The University of Tennessee – Knoxville / Summer 2014 E-Tern

My love for history has always been natural.  My grandmother, Joanne Rundell, introduced me to Mount Vernon as a child and we visited twice together.   I took my time as I wandered through the house and the grounds, asking a million questions along the way.  I’ve been curious about Mount Vernon ever since.

At the same time, genealogy quickly grew as an interest after my grandmother asked me to investigate her mother’s ancestral line.   Tracing my ancestors through time honed my research skills and also provided another kind of history, my own personal history.  Searching through library archives and other genealogical databases was helpful and exciting.  My search revealed primary and secondary sources, including census records and family histories, but never a ledger book like those being transcribed by Mount Vernon as part of the Glassford & Henderson Transcription Project.

While census records include a person’s location and occupation, a ledger book can give equal proof that someone is in a specific place at a specific time.  Additionally, ledger books can fill in the years between censuses while revealing more personal information like goods purchased and sold.  Because the Glassford & Henderson ledgers occurred before regular censuses in the United States, they help provide a record that lists people, not only account holders, but tenants, family members, etc., during a time when lists of people are hard to find.

In 1767, Ignatius Turley made several purchases at the Colchester Store. His relationship to Paul, his father, is of interest.

Along with a personal account of daily lives, ledger books give genealogical clues.  For example, in 1767, Ignatius Turley purchased items including a handkerchief, saddle, pair of garters, and a castor hat.  Written after the account name, “Son of Paul” indicates Ignatius Turley is the son of a Paul Turley.  The same year, Paul Turley’s account indicates Ignatius came into the store and purchased nails, osnaburg, roles, and Irish linen on his account.

Under Paul Turley's account, Ignatius made a purchase in June 1767 at the Colchester Store.

Genealogical research for Paul and Ignatius Turley resulted in finding a few different kinds of documents:  rent rolls, will books, and marriage records. Paul’s marriage record indicates he was born in 1705.  The rent roll says Paul lived in Fairfax County, VA, in 1770.  These facts run parallel with the information available in the Glassford & Henderson ledger books.

Interestingly, in September 1767, Paul Turley paid off Ignatius's debt to the Colchester store in full.

A book of wills kept by local municipalities contains the probate records of many estates. The will found on record for Paul Turley lists his family members, but Ignatius isn’t included as a family member, only a legatee.  Merriam-Webster defines legatee as “someone who received money or property from a person who has died”.  Is it possible there were two Paul Turleys in Fairfax County at the same time?  Why is Ignatius not listed as a blood relative in Paul’s will?  While the ledger book confirms a familial relationship between a Paul and an Ignatius Turley, more research will need to be done to confirm that they are the same Paul and Ignatius identified in other records.

The Glassford & Henderson Transcription Project exceeded my expectations as a historical learning experience.  Finding clues that help weave pieces of a family history was a delightful, unexpected bonus.  I would be thrilled to find my ancestor in a ledger book.  Not only would it help confirm general information like names and dates, but the details of a ledger book add color to ancestor’s lives.  Using ledger books as a genealogical resource would be beneficial to all genealogy buffs and history lovers as well.


Mitchell, Beth, compiler.  The Turley Family Records.  Turley Family Historical Research Association, 1981., accessed August 8, 2014.

“Abstracts of Wills and Inventories, Fairfax County, Virginia, 1742 – 1801: Will Book C, 1767 – 1776″.  Database. 2014.

“U.S and International Marriage Records, 1560 – 1900″.  Database.  2014.

Virginia, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1607-1890”. Database. Provo, UT, USA.

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2 Responses to Genealogical Clues in Ledger Books

  1. cindy buford says:

    When you find our greats (fathers and mothers) and evidence of death and marriage and burial sites, please let me know. OK?

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