Local History

Local HistoryEsther Murdaugh Wilson Memorial Room

601 Court Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704
757-393-8501 ext. 6521
Hours: Normally 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
(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. Ancestry.com 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 localhistory@portsmoutva.gov


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

  • Books, documents & microfilm pertaining to Portsmouth and Norfolk County (primary & secondary)
  • 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 High Schools of Portsmouth, (list of available schools & years)
  • 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 usgwarchives.org and findagrave.com these are updated periodically. Births and deaths for Norfolk County and Portsmouth 1850 to 1896:  Colored Births 1857-1896 Colored deaths 1858-1896.  Cemeteries 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);  Marriages 1858 to 1901 A-F; Marriages 1858 to 1901 G-Q; Marriages 1858 to 1901 R-Z; Marriages 1901-1906; Marriages 1902-1907; Marriages 1906-1910 ( in progress), Marriages 1911-1920; Marriages 1921-1925; Marriages 1926 -1929; Marriages 1930-1935Marriages 1936-1939Marriage records are a work in process, only the years with links have been completed.

The African-American Historic Cemeteries of Portsmouth Virginia has a nice page with lots of Information and pictures with their Cemetery Records. (See an an article in the Virginian-Pilot about their efforts here).


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

A History of Old Towne
Historic Photos
Norfolk public Library Sargeant Memorial Collection