Local History

Local HistoryEsther Murdaugh Wilson Memorial Room

601 Court Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704
757-393-8501 ext. 6521
Hours: Normally  Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Wednesday 10 AM-2 PM, Friday 12:30 – 3 PM barring the unforeseen.
(Staffed by volunteers so please call ahead for hours).

The “Local History” room was founded in 1963 when Mrs. Mary J McMurran convinced Judge Benjamin Dey White to donate his library for a designated room of non-circulating history collection.  The Naval Shipyard also has a small library of local interest, although their emphasis is on the history of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (formerly Gosport Yard) and its effect on the City of Portsmouth.

The room is dedicated to the preservation of the history of Portsmouth and its people, and making such information available to interested researchers. (See an indication of our collection below.)The Portsmouth of Today includes eight annexations of surrounding areas from Norfolk County. Therefore our special emphasis includes many materials about the county and surrounding areas southeastern Virginia. The room hosts over 2,000 visitors yearly mostly from close by,but many came from as far as Wales. is available within all branches, special assistance is available within the room. Since the room is partially staffed by volunteers, it is recommended that you call to ascertain that someone will be on hand to assist you. Contact:  393-8501 ext 6521 or

The Room Collection includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Books, documents & microfilm pertaining to Portsmouth and Norfolk County  Norfolk and Portsmouth City Directories, 1851-1931
  • Genealogies, memoirs, scrapbooks and notebooks of Portsmouth families and organizations (please donate or share)
  • Photo Collections of a number of local historians/photographers. (Please donate or share)
  • Jeffrey T Wilson – 1924 “Colored Notes” index and articles from Portsmouth Star newspaper; Bertha   Edward –  Notes on Portsmouth Black History;   African American  Historical Association of Portsmouth
  • Yearbook from various Portsmouth Schools digitized through a project with the Library of Virginia and are made available via the Internet Archive.
  • Books by local authors
  • Special section on the Civil War including the Applications for membership in the Stonewall Jackson Chapter of Confederate Veterans (including meeting minutes)

Vital and Cemetery Records
can be accessed in the room, on this site, and at and these are updated periodically.

Once a document is open press Ctrl+f to search and type a name in the search box
for Norfolk County and Portsmouth 1850 to 1896:  Colored Births 1857-1896 , Portsmouth Births 1853-1917 by last name.

Deaths in Portsmouth & Elizabeth River Parish recorded in Norfolk County. 1853-1860   Norfolk County District 1 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893 1894, (1895 still in process) 1896,. Norfolk County District 2 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, (1895 still in process), 1896Cemeteries within the city limits not including some small family plots around the city:  Barclay (Cradock), Captain Ted Conway (“Fort Woods” @ Naval Hospital) Cedar Grove (oldest),  Cheva Thilim (Jewish)  Evergreen, Gomley Chessed (Jewish)Lincoln (African-American),  Monumental Methodist, Mt Calvery (includes Mt Olive & Fisher Hill, Olive Branch (a work in progress-Olive Branch Index),  Oak Grove & Oak Grove Portlock,  St Paul’s/Catholic  Shea (Scotts Creek), Trinity Episcopal.

Marriages of Norfolk County (early & 1850-1935) & Portsmouth (1858-1939);  1858-1901-A-F Marriages1858-1901-G-Q Marriages; 1858 to 1901 R-Z Marriages ; 1901-1906 Marriages ; Marriages 1906-1910 ( in progress), Marriages 1911-1920; 1921-1925 Marriages; 1926-1929 Marriages; 1930-1935 Marriages1936-39 MarriagesMarriage records are a work in process, only the years with links have been completed.

Click to access Heritage Quest from within the library.
Click Here to Enter from home (Library Bar Code Required)

HeritageQuest Online provides libraries with a unique, growing collection of research materials for tracing family history and American culture with over 25,000 books, the entire U.S. Federal Census, PERSI™, and other expanding collections.  Beginning or professional genealogists can now use this powerful online library, with original page images for all documents, from the convenience of their home or at the library.

Other Links

Historic Photos
Norfolk public Library Sargeant Memorial Collection