Virginia Heritage is a consolidated database which provides information about the vast array of manuscripts and archival materials housed in historical societies, libraries, museums, colleges and universities across Virginia and West Virginia. The continuous addition of new and updated finding aids makes this a great tool for discovering primary source materials documenting the history, culture, and people of these two states.

Learn more about our organizational structure.


Who should use Virgina Heritage?

The short answer? Anyone! Virginia Heritage is designed for easy access to finding aids that will help anyone quickly and easily locate materials helpful to their research. It is meant for researchers, genealogists, teachers, students, and history enthusiasts worldwide.

Is it only about Virginia?

No, our member's collections cover subjects that extend well beyond the borders of Virginia. West Virginia institutions are now contributing finding aids as well.

What is a finding aid?

Finding aids (also called guides or descriptive inventories) are the key to locating primary source materials. The finding aid provides a comprehensive overview of a collection, explaining its organization, outlining its origin, contents, dates, and listing the location of materials. It also informs the researcher about how to access a collection and how it can be used.

How do I search Virginia Heritage?

Virginia Heritage provides a centralized means of searching archival resources held by member institutions. The search box, located on the Home page, allows searching by keyword or phrase across all of the finding aids in the database. The search results can be further limited using the facets on the side. More detailed search options are available in the Advanced Search, allowing targeted searching by title, identifier, collection number, or repository name.

Please note that the search box on the vaheritage.org page takes the user to the union database (http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/search)

How do I access the materials listed in a finding aid?

Finding aids describe the materials held by the institution that created the finding aid. Some finding aids include links to digitized materials or born-digital content, but in most cases, you will need to visit that institution to view the materials.

Contact information, including phone, email, and web address, is located at the top of the finding aid. Each institution has policies and procedures for viewing materials. Some allow any researcher to come and ask for materials during business hours, while others may require an appointment. Institutions may also scan or photocopy a limited amount of materials for researchers who are unable to visit in person. It is best to visit the institution’s website for details or contact them via phone or email. Institutional profiles on the Member List page provide contact information also.

How do I participate in Virginia Heritage?

Virginia Heritage is open to all libraries, museums, colleges and universities, and other cultural institutions in Virginia and West Virginia with archival holdings that they wish to share. For more information, please contact the current Governance chair or the Outreach Team at vaheritageoutreach@gmail.com. To join the listserv (VIVASC-L), please visit the VIVA Listservs page. See also the page “Join VH.”

What is VIVA?

The Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) is a consortium of nonprofit academic libraries in Virginia. Members include all 39 state-assisted colleges and universities, 33 independent (private, nonprofit) institutions, and the Library of Virginia. The mission of VIVA is to provide, in an equitable, cooperative, and cost-effective manner, enhanced access to library and information resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s research libraries serving the higher education community. Please visit the VIVA website for more information: www.vivalib.org.

The History of the Virginia Heritage Project

The idea for Virginia Heritage emerged during a VIVA Special Collections Committee meeting in 1997. The committee’s goal was to make the unique resources of its members more widely accessible. The group decided that creating a union database of finding aids would be a great way to accomplish this. The University of Virginia (UVA) had recently participated in the American Heritage Project, a shared database of finding aids describing collections documenting American history and culture. Drawing from UVA’s experience, the committee began the Virginia Heritage Project (VHP).

Over the next few years, the project team worked to make the VHP a reality. The group surveyed archival repositories at Virginia colleges and universities to determine the type and extent of holdings and technical capabilities. The team also planned and offered EAD training to archivists throughout the state. The project team wrote a grant for funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which UVA submitted on behalf of the VIVA consortium. In April 2000, the NEH awarded the project a $250,000 grant.  By June of 2001, there were eleven participating institutions, and 1,600 finding aids were available through the Virginia Heritage database. In 2003 Virginia Heritage won the Solinet Outstanding Library Programs Award for Preservation and Electronic Information.

By 2012, the members of Virginia Heritage decided that it needed an update. A new WordPress site was created and served as the gateway to the union database. The site included a search box to the union database, information about Virginia Heritage, a list of participating institutions, and information for contributing institutions. Social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook were also added. In 2019, the WordPress site was refreshed.

Virginia Heritage continues to grow with new members joining and an ever-expanding database of finding aids.

Join Virginia Heritage

Membership is free to libraries, museums, colleges, universities, and other cultural institutions that have archival holdings that they wish to share.

Recently added or updated finding aids: