Updated March 23, 2016
According to the Library of Virginia, Virginia Memory Website:
"Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African-Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the oftentimes murky past to their enslaved ancestors. The registers date from 1866 and provide a snapshot in time for the individuals recorded therein and a wealth of information that may otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult, to uncover. The documents may offer clues for how to proceed with an individual's history that otherwise may have remained hidden even from the 1870 federal census takers four years later. Historians are also interested in the registers because of what the registers might say about a particular community of people at a time when great changes had come about as a result of the Civil War and the end of slavery.
A cohabitation register, or as it is properly titled, Register of Colored Persons . . . cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, was the legal vehicle by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. The information about an individual person contained in a cohabitation register is literally priceless as it is often the first time that a former slave appeared officially in the public record and because of the extensive kinds of information that the register recorded.
Prior to the close of the Civil War, Virginia law provided no legal recognition for slave marriages. On 27 February 1866, the General Assembly enacted a law that entitled formerly enslaved people who had married during slavery to all of the rights and privileges as if they had been duly married by law and declared all of their children legitimate, whether born before or after the passage of this act. Additionally, the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau) directed the assistant superintendents of the states to order the county clerks to make a registry of such persons cohabiting. These registers were either deposited with the local clerks of court or were retained in the Freedmen's Bureau records, now found at the National Archives.
Beyond accomplishing the original goal of the cohabitation registration which was the formalizing of slave marriages, the kind of information recorded in the registers is invaluable today to genealogists and historians alike. The surviving Virginia cohabitation registers recorded the name of the husband, his age, place of birth, residence, occupation, last owner, last owner's city or county of residence, the name of the wife, her age, place of birth, residence, last owner, last owner's city or county of residence, name of children with the ages of each, and the date of commencement of cohabitation."
In this Register, Isham GILLIAM of Buckingham and Edward GILLIAM of Cumberland are listed as slave owners.
Reuben GILLIAM and wife Sarah, former slaves, are listed as living in Prince Edward and having several children. Reuben and Sarah appear in the 1870 and 1880 Federal Census in Nottoway County. In 1870, sons, William H. and Paschal, are listed in the household of Thomas Farrar. LIsted in the Prince Edward Register of Children of Colored Persons whose Parents had Ceased to Cohabit which the Father Recognizes to be His, is a James A. and Sarah GILLIAM, born free, children of William GILLIAM and Mary, deceased. William states that his last owner was Mrs. Katy Jones. As Reuben's last owner was also Mrs. Katy Jones, it is likely that Reuben and William are near relatives. It is possible that Mrs. Katy Jones is Mrs. E. C. Jones of the 1860 Slave Schedule who has slaves the ages of Reuben and Sarah. In 1870, Elizabeth C. Jones, age 67, is living with Catherine Jones, age 47.
Register of Colored Persons of Prince Edward County, State of Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February, 1866
Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.
|Husband's name and age||Robert Jackson, age 30||Reuben Gillham, age 58||Daniel Booker, age 26||John Chafin, age 53|
|Husband's birthplace||Prince Edward||Nottoway||Prince Edward||Cumberland|
|Husband's Residence ||Prince Edward||Prince Edward||Prince Edward||Prince Edward|
|Last Owner||Mrs. Betty Woodson||Mrs. Katy Jones||James R. Gillespie||Isham Gillam|
|Last Owner's Residence||Prince Edward||Nottoway||Buckingham||Buckingham|
|Wife's name and age ||Julia A. Jackson, age 30||Sarah Gillham, age 32||Mary Booker, age 22||Mary Chafin, age 22|
|Wife's birthplace||Charlotte||Prince Edward||Prince Edward||Pennsylvania|
|Wife's residence ||Prince Edward||Prince Edward||Prince Edward||Prince Edward|
|Last Owner||Isham GILLIAM||Edward Wingle||Edward Gillham||Born Free|
|Last Owner's Residence||Buckingham||Nottoway||Cumberland|
|Children and ages||William H. Gillham, age 14|
Paschal Gillham, age 10
Charles R. Gillham, age 9
Jack B. Gillham, age 8
Reuben Gillham, age 5
Ann Gillham, age 3
James L. Gillham, 1
|Daniel Booker, age 6|
|Date of Commencement of Cohabitation||1 Aug 1865||1 Oct 1850||25 Dec 1865||25 Dec 1865|
- Library of Virginia. Register of Colored Persons of Prince Edward County, State of Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February, 1866. Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.