Using State, Federal and Military Records for Genealogical Research

Part of the mandate of the Archives and Records Section is to promote and safeguard the documentary heritage of the State of North Carolina, particularly as it pertains to public offices. This is done by managing and collecting the records of state and local governments.

State Records

In the Search Room, near the card catalog, there are black notebooks that contain paper finding aids for all the state agencies. These finding aids describe each agency and give you call numbers for requesting the records. There are card files for a few of the larger and more useful series within certain agencies, such as General Assembly records, which are even more precisely described. Many state agency records are also described and indexed in our online catalog, MARS. For information on how to search MARS, go to the topic “MARS and Online Finding Aids.” A handful of state agencies also have online finding aids available through our website.

Secretary of State is one of the largest of the state agencies and certainly the most useful for the genealogical researchers. The collection contains numerous types of records. Land grants, tax lists, and wills and estates prior to 1798 are probably the most helpful. One of these series deserves special mention–the Secretary of State Land Grants. These records, which are simply deeds in which the grantor is the state or the crown, are being filmed and made available on microfilm in the microfilm room. Currently we have microfilm for Alamance County through the first part of Wilkes County. Few land grants have any genealogical information on them at all, although they are invaluable for tracing land.

State Auditor records – Civil War pensions is probably the most valuable series in this record group because it contains two groups of pension applications made by Civil War veterans and/or their widows in 1885 and 1901. The names of these veterans are on MARS. There are also hard copy indices of all the men or their widows who received pensions under both laws.

Federal Records

The Archives has some of the microfilmed federal records because they are invaluable to genealogists. They include the federal census records for 1790-1930 and all are indexed either in hard copy or microfilm. The Archives also has the military service records of soldiers, marines, and sailors that served in the Confederacy and a few records of the Revolution.

Military Records

Military records are of great interest to genealogists and they tend to appear at almost all levels of government – county, state and federal:

  • Colonial wars and militia returns are records which primarily include lists of men serving in the militia for various periods and include the Spanish Invasion of 1742-1748, Frontier Scouting and Indian Wars 1758-1788, War of the Regulation 1768-1779. The records are not complete.
  • Revolutionary War – Most of the records of this war are located at the National Archives (i.e. service, pension). The Archives has some Army Account books which list men and amounts of money paid them. These lists give no other information and do not necessarily indicate service as a soldier; they may prove patriotic service. The Archives also has some pay vouchers on microfilm, which give a name, amount of money paid, and sometimes the reason for the payment.
  • War of 1812 – Muster rolls and pay vouchers
  • Mexican War – Roster of troops that has been published and is available in the search room.
  • Civil War – A roster of Confederate troops is currently being compiled by Historic Publications called North Carolina Troops and so far 16 volumes have been published and are available in the search room. This roster is complete only to the 68th regiment, as well as Thomas’ Legion, but is very thorough for those regiments. In compiling the roster, the editors are using newspapers, muster and pay rolls, service records as well as other sources available in the Archives’ Civil War collection. Included in the State Auditor’s records are Confederate pension records. Also previously mentioned are the service records of Confederate soldiers on microfilm, as are the records of some of the Federal prisons that held Confederate prisoners of war, such as Point Lookout, MD, and Elmira, NY. The Civil War Collection includes a large array of records, all unindexed and somewhat tedious to access, such as muster rolls, clothing allowances, regimental records, some reminiscences and various other types of records. A large, detailed finding aid is available in the search room and online. The State Archives Civil War 150 Committee has also created the North Carolina Civil War 150 blog for information related to the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
  • Spanish-American War – A roster of troops has been published and is in the search room.

The Archives has some material for more modern wars and detailed finding aids are available in the Search Room (with a few selected finding aids available online). The important thing about wars is that they are generally financed and run by the national governing body rather than the state so the National Archives or the military are the most likely places to have custody of these records. The Confederacy, of course, was the financing body for the South in the Civil War but their records were confiscated by the federals when they took Richmond, making their records part of the national body of records. There may be auxiliary records at the state and local levels but the bulk of the records are created and maintained at the federal level.

Additional Types of Records Useful to Genealogists

Colonial Court Records – These records cover the period 1680-1767 and are some of the oldest, and certainly most significant, records in the Archives. There are a few records from the 1670s and 80s, but starting with 1694 they are pretty complete. There are estates records from 1665-1775 and there is a list of the intestates in the search room. Many of these records have been published in the State and Colonial Records series, the latter of which is now available on line at UNC’s website.

District Superior Court Records – These records cover the periods 1760-1772, 1778-1806. NC was divided into five districts each having its own independent court. These courts maintained jurisdiction over civil actions involving values over 50 as well as criminal actions in which punishment could involve loss of life or member. The districts were Edenton, Halifax, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington. Hillsborough was added in 1768 and after 1778 additional districts were added as they were needed. In 1806 superior courts were added to every county in the state and District Superior Courts were closed.

Private Collections – The State Archives of North Carolina is unusual in having over 1800 private collections, that is, collections of private papers of individuals, primarily those papers of people of importance in North Carolina’s history. These include the private papers of governors, legislators, prominent land owners, as well as papers that deal with events important to the development of North Carolina, such as diaries and letters of soldiers. The collections are described in the Guide to Private Manuscript Collections in the State Archives of North Carolina compiled and edited by Barbara T. Cain. Many private collections are also described and indexed in our online catalog, MARS; for information on how to search MARS, go to the topic “MARS and Online Finding Aids.” In addition, some private papers, organization records, military collections, and photographic collections have online finding aids available through our website. Brief lists of all non-textual materials (photograph collections, photographic negatives, motion picture films, videos, sound records, CDs and DVDs) are also available through the Audio Visual Materials webpage.

Church records are primarily on microfilm and relatively few in number but can be invaluable to the genealogist. There is a card file finding aid in the microfilm room. Obviously, for most genealogists the most valuable records are membership rolls which sometimes indicate births to and deaths of members. For the most part, however, the reels in the microfilm room are church minutes.

Newspapers – These records are on microfilm and include defunct newspapers in North Carolina. Newspapers are very valuable for the information they contain on their society and obituary pages. They also cover events held in a town or county and may mention participants. Unfortunately they are currently unindexed; however, the State Archives is involved in a project to digitize and index some of our older newspapers. A guide to newspapers on microfilm (pdf) is available and digital copies of some of our newspapers can be found online.

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