Gaston County Public Library

Finding North Carolina Ancestors

 

A Note about FamilySearch.org
Many of the sources given here are found on FamilySearch.org. This site is continually adding new files and indexing existing files. Be sure to keep checking FamilySearch.org for new information!

 

 

North Carolina History

While some Virginians may have moved south to the Albemarle region of North Carolina as early as the 1650s, the formal settlement of the colony began in 1663 when the King of England granted huge tracts of territory to eight of his nobles, who would be known as the Proprietors. North Carolina grew very slowly and in 1729, the Crown bought back the lands from all of the Proprietors except one, Lord Granville, and North Carolina became a royal colony. In the 1770s, the colony declared its independence along with the other colonies and became the State of North Carolina. All of these changes affected what records were made and kept.

North Carolina did not grow largely from east to west. Instead most of the colonial settlers came south from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia into the central Piedmont area and then eventually heading west and south. The most important route to the new lands was the Great Wagon Road (also known as the Great Valley Road).
Go to: http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Great_Valley_Road

Beginning with 2 counties, North Carolina grew and changed until today there are 100 counties. Important tip for genealogists: When a new county is formed, the old records for that geographical area stay with the old county. You may need to look at more than one set of county records, even if your ancestors stayed in the same place.

Use this chart to find when a county was formed and from what other counties: North Carolina County formation.
Go to: http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/resources/genealogy/nccounties.html

This slide show will let you watch North Carolina grow.
Go to: http://www.usgennet.org/usa/nc/state2/amap/nccf.html

Getting Started

Guides to Research in North Carolina:

  • 929.3 HAI. Research in North Carolina, by Jeffrey L. Haines, pub. 2008.
  • 929.1 NOR NCC. North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History 2nd ed., by Helen F. M. Leary, pub. 1996.
  • FamilySearch Wiki page on North Carolina.
    Go to: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/North_Carolina

Vital Records

For a general overview, see Vital Records in the State Archives of North Carolina (PDF).
Go to: http://archives.ncdcr.gov/Portals/3/PDF/newsletters/newsletter_FallWinter_2013_Interactive.pdf

Marriage records may be found sporadically as far back as the 1700s. They may be public or church records. Marriage licenses since 1868 were usually filed with the county Register of Deeds office. Marriage notices may also be found in newspapers.

Online sources include:

  • Ancestry Library Edition:
    • North Carolina Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868. Bonds were optional; they were not required, so they will be found only for a portion of the marriages.
    • North Carolina Marriage Index, 1741-2004, a compilation from several sources.
  • FamilySearch:

Statewide registration of births and deaths began in 1913 although a few cities or counties may have some earlier records. These records were normally kept by the Register of Deeds for each county. Both births and deaths are supposed to be registered in the county where the event happened.

Online death sources include:

  • FamilySearch:
  • Ancestry Library Edition:
    • North Carolina, Death Indexes, 1908-2004.
    • North Carolina Death Certificates, 1909-1975.

Online birth sources include:

Wills, estate files, and other probate records may also provide a death date along with much other information on a family:

  • FamilySearch
    • North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979. Index and images of estate files from North Carolina counties. Files are arranged alphabetically within each county.
      Go to: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1911121
    • North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970. Browse images including wills, guardianships and estate records. Most of the records in this collection are from 1800-1930.
      Go to: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1867501
  • Ancestry Library Edition (available in all library branches):
    • North Carolina Will Abstracts, 1660-1790.
    • North Carolina Will Abstracts, 1760-1800.
    • North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998
  • 929.3756 MIT NCC. North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665-1900, corrected and revised ed., 1992.
  • 929.3768 WAS NCC Washington County, Tennessee, settlements of estates, volume 00, 1790-1841 (reprinted 2012). Washington County was originally part of North Carolina until 1790 and includes early settlers from North Carolina.

Digital Collections

More and more records and books are being placed online. The sites below are important for North Carolina research.

Newspapers

Digital collections:

  • Digital North Carolina Newspaper section.
    Go to: http://www.digitalnc.org/collections/newspapers/
  • North Carolina Newspaper Digitization Project. These materials include papers dating from 1752-1890s.
    Go to: http://exhibits.archives.ncdcr.gov/newspaper/index.html
  • Index to the Raleigh News and Observer, 1926-1992.
    Go to: http://statelibrarync.org/noi/
  • The Biblical Recorder, official journal of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, 1834-1970.
    Go to: http://recorder.zsr.wfu.edu/Default/Skins/WakeforestA/Client.asp?skin=WakeforestA&AppName=2&AW=1408223691009
  • Chronicling America, searchable historic newspaper pages from 1789-1924. Includes North Carolina.
    Go to: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

Find what North Carolina newspapers were printed in a county or city: North Carolina Newspapers Index, a pdf file. This is NOT an index to newspaper contents.
Go to: http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p249901coll22/id/18084

Also search the North Carolina Newspaper Locator for newspaper microfilm by county, town, title, or date range.
Go to: http://cinch.nclive.org/newspaper/

Maps

Digital collections:

  • North Carolina Maps is an online collection of historic maps ranging in date from the late 1500s to 2000.
    Go to: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/dc/ncmaps/?CISOROOT=/ncmaps

Land Records

Original land "grants" or "patents" were made by the government at the time: the proprietors, the royal colony, and then the state government. (See North Carolina History above.) Once a piece of land had been granted to its first owner, any future sales were transactions between individuals and were recorded at the Register of Deeds office, usually, but not always, in the county where the land was located. Records of land grants are at the North Carolina State Archives.

Digital collections:

  • Search the NC Land Grant Images and Data for North Carolina land grant documents including names, dates and locations for years 1663 through 1960.
    Go to: http://www.nclandgrants.com/

Online sources include:

  • FamilySearch
  • Ancestry Library Edition (available in all library branches):
    • North Carolina, Land Grant Files, 1693-1960
    • North Carolina and Tennessee, Early Land Records, 1753-1931 (includes records from early western North Carolina lands that later became Tennessee)

Two useful articles explaining how the systems worked are:

Here are the call numbers in this library for some of the books mentioned in the Archives guide:

  • 929.3756 NOR NCC. North Carolina Headrights: A List of Names, 1663-1744.
  • 929.3 H NCC. Province of North Carolina, 1663-1729: Abstracts of Land Patents.
  • 929.3 H NCC. Colony of North Carolina, 1735-1764: Abstracts of Land Patents. Vol. 1: 1735 - 1764; Vol. 2: 1765 - 1775.
  • 929.3 HOF NCC, Vol. 1.. North Carolina Abstracts of State Grants. Library has vol. 1 only.
  • 929.3 GRA NCC. The Granville District of North Carolina, 1748 - 1763: Abstracts of Land Grants (5 volumes).

    Other places to look:
  • 929.3 PRU NCC. Index of People and Places in North Carolina Land Warrants (1735-1774), pub. 2004. Indexes 11 sources.
  • 929.3 N NCC. North Carolina land grants in Tennessee, 1778-1791, pub. 1981.
  • Search the State Archives MARS Online Catalog. Some digital images are available.
    Go to: http://archives.ncdcr.gov/Public/Finding-Aids


 

Author: Gaston County Public Library
Title: Finding North Carolina Ancestors
URL: http://gastonlibrary.org/index.cfm/research/genealogy-local-history/nc-ancestors/
Revised: 26 January 2017