The most fascinating aspect of looking for information on your ancestors is that you never know where the next great resource will come from. One very nice online site; VMI – Virginia Military Institute, has a great archive about the VMI alumni. It is very possible you may have never considered the possibility that an ancestor attended the Virginia Military Institute, especially if you had no ancestors from Virginia or surrounding states.
The history of this military instructional school dates back to 1839 when it opened its doors to 23 students from Virginia on November 11th. From those first 23 individuals, after three years, 16 cadets completed the courses and graduated in July 1842. By 1845, out-of-state cadets began to attend the school, the first one coming from Louisiana. By 1858 a surge of cadets from outside of Virginia were attending this school in Lexington, Virginia.
The school did have to close for better than a year during the American Civil War, but did reopen in September 1865. From then on its reputation as a proven academic and military instructional institution was outstanding. New cadets came from all over, the majority did enter the U. S. military after graduation, but many did not, rather going into other professions.
So with over 170 years of service the institution has amassed quite a collection of information on former cadets. On the web site they provide rosters of students who were enrolled at VMI, even if they did not graduate. It covers cadets from 1839 to 1935. There is biographical information provided besides their name with some having photos.
There is a search box for checking the databases. Place an individual’s surname. Don’t worry if you do not know when they may have attended. The same procedure is for the Online Photographs Database. Many of these are group images. For example, there is a great photo taken in 1893 of four cadets, very casual setting with each person identified. Just imagine if your ancestor was Cary D. Langhorne and now you are viewing a shot of him and his friends celebrating New Year’s Eve. Some of the group photos go beyond the period of 1935, like the image of football players in a game during 1957.
There are additional items in the VMI collection; from dairies, military service records, oral histories, VMI newspapers, yearbooks to illustrations. Overall, a nice selection and one that should be checked for any possible ancestors since cadets did travel to the Institute from across the United States.
The above image was of VMI Cadet- Alexander Duval Exall – graduated in 1876.< Return To Blog