General Introduction to Procession Districts - by Gail M. Walczyk

Early in my search for my family's roots I realized that to know my family I had to know the land on which they lived and the people with whom they socialized and did business.  I started doing what I now term "Area Genealogy," the study of the family relationships of the inhabitants living in a certain section.  It was extremely helpful when I tackled the families on most of the islands in the Bay.  By locating where a person lived I was able to understand certain family relationships.  I found that by looking at neighboring households I was able to see whose daughter had married whose son and why so-and-so was appointed guardian to someone.  It all seemed to matter in some way. 

About three years ago I came across some little known and little used records of "Processions."  Processions were a type of boundary survey in England and the United States, especially in Virginia and Kentucky.  On the Eastern Shore of Virginia every four years the Vestrymen of the Church would meet and order that a processioning be taken.  The job of the processioners was to decide upon property boundaries and to mark and describe them in the processioner's book.  All landowners in a community would ride or walk along the boundaries of their property from marked trees to marked trees and from creek to creek.  They would make sure the boundary markers were still there, note the ones missing and create new ones.  On the Eastern Shore, when there was a dispute in the boundaries, the processioning of the disputed land would be stopped.  A jury would be empanelled in court, and accompanied by a surveyor and the sheriff would go and view the lines and decide on the boundaries.  This English custom was a means of avoiding disputes arising from poor surveys or loss of boundary markers such as trees and was also used to tithe the freeholders or owners of the land.

At first glance these records look like just lists of names.  With further study one sees that they were done by precincts and walked from plantation to plantation, creating an every-four-year census of landowners and their neighbors.  The boundary lines were actually walked and the procession was witnessed by the landowners of the district.  Occasionally a son, relative, tenant or overseer would witness the procession instead of the actual landowner.  By following the names through the ensuing years, sales of land, deaths of landowners and names of creeks and roads no longer used can be seen.  Doing Area Genealogy generates clues to parents, grandparents, other family relationships and social dealings.

Although Northampton County has only one unfilmed book remaining, Accomack has filmed records from 1723 to 1895.  St. George Parish District 11 held a lot of my ancestors in it from the start, so I decided to study this area first.  I chose 1795 to work on because it was the first year that all the boundaries were written down.

I assigned every landowner and witness a household number as if this were a census and did a three-generation genealogy of each.   While working on the genealogies I found that I had compiled a history not only of each household but of the land itself, and the personal relationships that each household held with the others.  These web pages show these relationships.

© Copyright 2005-2009 by Gail M. Walczyk