Virginia Genealogists Need SWEM

3 min read

By Joe Garonzik

The two-volume Virginia Historical Index (aka “Swem’s Index” or “Swem”), originally published in 1934, encompasses the contents of the following seven serial publications: “The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography” (VMHB),Vols. 1-38; the “William and Mary College Quarterly” ( aka the “William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine” W&MCQ), Series I, Vols. 1-27 and Series II, Vols. 1-10; “Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine” (TQ), Vols. 1-10; the “Virginia Historical Register and Literary Advertiser,” Vols. 1-6; the “Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary,” Vols. 1-5; “Hening’s Statutes at Large,” Vols. 1-13; and the “Calendar of Virginia State Papers,” Vols. 1-11.

The aforementioned publications indexed in Swem comprised the greatest published sources on Virginia genealogy and history at the time of the Index’s original publication. For example, when Earl Gregg Swem and his associates began work on the Virginia Historical Index, it was a foregone conclusion that the three great Virginia genealogical periodicals would be subjected to their analysis. VMHB, W&MCQ, and TQ were, after all, THE acknowledged organs of genealogical scholarship for the colony and state of Virginia. Each of the other four multi-volume works indexed in Swem possessed important attributes that ultimately compelled its inclusion.  Both the “Virginia Historical Register and Literary Advertiser” and the “Lower Norfolk Antiquary” were short-lived publications. The former, which existed for six years, was published by the Virginia Historical Society and was, in some ways, a precursor to VMHB. The “Antiquary,” edited by Edward Wilson James from 1895-1906, drew attention to the invaluable source records of the southern Virginia counties of Princess Anne and Norfolk, documents heretofore neglected by students of Virginia history and genealogy. “Hening’s Statutes at Large,” in following the session laws of the colony and state for nearly 200 years, contained a wealth of historical as well as legal information. Finally, the eleven-volume “Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 1652-1869” is rich in orders of governors, letters and reports, and miscellaneous papers–all in all an extremely valuable collection of source documents for Virginia.

What commends Swem to genealogists is not just its sweeping coverage, but also a number of useful features of the Index itself, such as:

1. The entries touch upon every phase of life in Virginia for more than 300 years, and most of them relate to the colonial period. 2. Notwithstanding their concern for the history of the Commonwealth, the indexers gave extra weight to genealogy.
3. The arrangement of the Index is so apparent that the researcher requires no special instructions in order to use it.
4. The inclusion of cross-references at the end of certain subjects increases SWEM’S overall usefulness.
5. The editors have inserted many words and phrases no longer in use to illustrate that they were part of the language of Virginia’s colonial inhabitants. All in all, a timeless contribution for students of Virginia ancestry.

For more rich Virginian history, we suggest the Genealogy Connect Colonial and Revolutionary bundle! Contact your Gale Rep for more information about this comprehensive collection.


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About the Author

Joe Garonzik, Ph.D., MBA, is the Marketing Director for He has worked at the company for 34 years. His work involves book promotion, content acquisition, and new product development. Joe has represented (and its affiliates Genealogical Publishing Company and Clearfield Company) at genealogy conferences and trade shows over the course of his career. He is married with two grown children, and is of Eastern European descent.

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