By Holly South
Virginia celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of its House of Burgesses this year, and among the many celebrations honoring this momentous milestone is one very ambitious project.
The House Clerk’s office recently unveiled a database of House members—named DOME in reference to the Capitol Rotunda’s 30-foot dome—that provides biographical and legislative service information on each of the nearly 10,000 House members elected since the first House of Burgesses convened on July 30, 1619.
The project has been a labor of love for G. Paul Nardo, clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates and keeper of the rolls of the Commonwealth, and has been in the works since he was elected in 2011.
He says his goal was to provide the public a “transparent and easy to access registry of individual members and overall history of this vital institution that I’m honored to serve and genuinely love.”
Nardo hopes the database will serve as a valuable research tool to “better understand Virginia history from a legislative perspective. It shares the outlines and stories of Virginia leaders inspired to seek and take an active role in shaping the course of the Commonwealth’s past, present and future.”
The House of Burgesses, the precursor to the Virginia House of Delegates, is both the first and oldest of American’s state legislatures—and the oldest English-speaking legislature in the Western Hemisphere (Iceland is believed to have the oldest continuously operating legislative assembly in the world).
The database is organized into four categories covering 1619-2019:
- Burgesses and Delegates: Biographical and legislative information about the legislators.
- Speakers and Clerks: Historical data about the chief presiding officers and administrators.
- Legislative Sessions and Committees: A chronology of each session, its leaders and member committee assignments.
- State Capitol Locations: A timeline of the 12 different meeting places at which the body has assembled, beginning with a church in Jamestown, continuing through Williamsburg, and ending in Richmond, where the current Capitol has stood since 1788.
Nardo anticipates the use of DOME as an interactive and “living research tool” that will encourage users to share their own research or family history.
His enthusiasm is shared by Ginny Edwards, who directs the reference center at Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services and considers DOME an “extremely valuable” resource “for historians, genealogists, teachers, and students who are interested in learning more about the people who have served in the House of Delegates.”
She includes herself among them. “As someone interested in genealogy, I was very excited to see one of my ancestors (Christopher Garland) listed in the database who served in the House of Delegates at the turn of the 19th century,” Edwards says.
The final version will be available this spring, but here's a preview of DOME.
More celebrations are planned, including a special commemorative session to be held in Jamestown on July 30. For more on the Virginia General Assembly’s 400th anniversary:
Holly South is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program and serves as the NCSL liaison to the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries (ASLCS). ASLCS is one of nine professional staff associations at NCSL.