[This blog post was written by Ruth Cody and Alexandra Dowrey, Archivists in the Records Description Unit, Government Records Section.]
While searching our new catalog, the Discover Online Catalog (DOC; https://archives.ncdcr.gov/doc/search-doc), you may have noticed that some of the county catalog entries look different than they did in MARS. That’s because the Records Description Unit in the Government Records Section has recently embarked on a project to restructure the presentation of county records holdings to facilitate access and discovery for these records.
The new structure more closely aligns with the way records are described in the search room card catalog. Records for each county are grouped into ten overarching categories, referred to as series. These series contain most of the same records as the corresponding card catalog series. The biggest change is that we took many of the record types out of the Miscellaneous record series and moved them into categories that more accurately represent them. We also tried to put indexes in the same series as their corresponding records. The ten categories are as follows:
Bonds, Licenses, Oaths, and Registrations contains Apprentice Bonds, Bastardy Bonds, Official Bonds and Records of county officials, Oaths taken by county officials, and other miscellaneous bonds and records pertaining to legal responsibilities of service granted through the courts, as well as Assumed Business Names, Corporations, and Partnerships and Brands or Marks registered in the county and Licenses and Registrations of merchants and professionals kept by the county.
County Administration contains records pertaining to or created by the administrative bodies of the county, including but not limited to the county Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, and Board of Health. It may include County Accounts and Claims, Journals and Ledgers of County Officials, and/or Records of Wardens of the Poor, as well as records documenting county boundaries and changes thereto.
Court Records includes records pertaining to the administration and actions of the county court system, particularly Civil and Criminal Actions before a jury and other actions before the court or the clerk, such as Special Proceedings. The dominant court prior to 1868 was known as the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions; after court reform, circa 1868, it was known as the Superior Court. Records that were previously separated by court reform are now categorized together.
Land and Property Records contains records related to ownership, transfer, and taxing of land and property.
Estates Records contains records related to the administration of deceased persons’ property.
Marriage, Divorce, and Vital Statistics contains vital records pertaining to major life events such as marriage, divorce, adoption (restricted by statute), immigration and naturalization, death, and disinterment/reinterment.
Tax Records may include List of Taxables, Tax Lists, and Tax Records, Tax Scrolls, and Miscellaneous Tax Records relating to taxation.
Wills includes Record of Wills volumes, original Wills, and indexes to wills.
Election Records includes Election Returns, Permanent Registration of Voters (grandfather clause registrations, 1902–1908), and Poll Books deposited with the clerk of Superior Court. It may also include minutes of the county Board of Elections.
Miscellaneous Records includes Armed Forces Discharges; Cemetery Records; Coroner’s Inquests and Reports; Military Records; Pension Records; Personal Accounts; Road Records and Reports; School Records; and truly miscellaneous records collected from various county agencies and offices. Miscellaneous Records boxes may also include records from all other county series that were of insufficient quantity to make a full box so it is always beneficial to look in the Miscellaneous Records even if the record you are looking for might fall into another category.
Those familiar with the current call number system for county records need not be alarmed. The call number system has not undergone any changes. Call numbers remain the same, and records can still be searched and accessed by entering a specific call number in the search bar of DOC. Under the new structure, unprocessed county records will be labeled as such and will have a call number that begins with T instead of CR. These records are generally unavailable in the search room on Saturdays unless prior arrangements have been made with the reference staff.
Perhaps the best way to see the holdings for each county and determine the exact record you need is to start with the main catalog entry for the county and then browse through the series to gain a comprehensive view of that county’s holdings. You can select an entire county record group by using the search criteria to the left on the search screen. Under Collection, select County Records. Then, under Level, select Record Group. This will pull up a list of 107 county record groups that you can either flip through to select one or type the county name into the search bar to pull up the exact county. Under the new structure, the ten series will be highlighted, and you can click through them to see the records available.
County restructuring is a work in progress. Currently, not all counties exhibit the new ten series structure. Staff from the Records Description Unit are working county by county to implement this new structure and record basic container information for the records. In later phases of this project, the Record Description Unit plans to provide users with more detailed information for record containers, such as specific dates for individual volumes and cross-references to related materials.
We are very excited about the many ways that our new system will facilitate research. We appreciate your patience while we implement our new county structures and add information to the system. For now, if you have any questions about locating county records, reference staff at the State Archives of North Carolina are here to help. Reference staff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at (919) 814-6840. For general questions about searching in DOC, please refer to the online FAQs page (https://archives.ncdcr.gov/search-catalog/online-catalog-faq).