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Heritage Center in city can unlock door to past page 3
Local archives helps families uncover roots

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Date published: 5/26/2009


“I call them ‘door openers,’” Simmons said of such documents. “It’s like walking in a maze and then you hit a brick wall. And then someone gives you information and you can keep walking.”


Simmons took that woman’s name—Mary Wigglesworth—and went looking for court documents.

Sure enough, she found the names of her ancestors listed among the holdings of Mary’s husband, Elijah Wigglesworth of Spotsylvania, in an 1842 inventory accompanying his will.

At first, she thought it would be painful to see her family members listed alongside hogs, chickens, parcels of land and other items doled out like heirlooms to the deceased man’s wife and children.

“But I think you just look so long and hard that when you find them, you’re so happy you don’t care,” she said.

She used what she found to trace her lineage down through Louisa Shakespeare, who married into the Woolfolk family.

She has since met distant cousins in Caroline who still bear that name or one of its variations, including Woodfolk and Woodfork, her maiden name.

She has even visited the graves of some of her ancestors at St. John’s Baptist Church cemetery in Caroline.

“The center has been a big help. The biggest key was they had those registers from the Freedmen’s Bureau,” Simmons said. “Without those, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this.”

Edie Gross: 540/374-5428

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The Central Rappahannock Heritage Center stores thousands of this region’s historical documents and photographs in its quarters at the old Maury School, 900 Barton St. Volunteers at the nonprofit organization help researchers, genealogists and anyone else who’s simply curious track down key information from the past. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday of each month. To volunteer at the center, become a member or get help with research, call 540/373-3704 or visit the center’s Web site at www.crhcarchives.org.


Marion Simmons of Maryland was able to trace her Caroline and Spotsylvania ancestors through slavery with help from the center. To see her research, visit her Web site at woodforkgenealogy.com.