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

Paper finding aids for processed state agency records are available in the Search Room near the reference desks. These finding aids contain agency histories and the call numbers for specific containers. Scans of most of these finding aids are available online and are presented as they were at the time of scanning (2011-2012). More recent finding aids are available on our website. Card files in the Search Room provide another access point for some of the larger series, such as the General Assembly records and the Secretary of State land grants. All state agency records, processed and unprocessed (meaning the records remain in the order and condition in which they were received from the agency), are also described at the series level in our online catalog, MARS. For information on how to search online catalog, go to the topic “Online Catalog, Finding Aids, and Digital Collections.”

Family historians and genealogists might find the following record series useful:

  1. Secretary of State land grants (1679-1959), tax lists (1720-1839), and records of probate (1663-1798). The land grants, which are deeds in which the grantor is the state or the crown, are available on microfilm in the microfilm room.
  2. State Auditor Civil War Confederate pensions (1885-1973) contain 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 and the 1901 pensions are available online.
  3. State Board of Education / Department of Public Instruction high school principals’ annual reports (1918-2004). High school principals’ annual reports are also available from the former Division of Negro Education (1922-1950). These annual reports contain graduation lists and surveys.

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. There are also miscellaneous documents naming farmers and groceries who supplied North Carolina militia with supplies. The Archives also has some pay vouchers on microfilm, which give a name, amount of money paid, and sometimes the reason for the payment.
  • Troop Returns (1747-1893)– Includes a series of lists: troop returns, records of prisoners, and records of draftees for North Carolina militia units and federal units whose members were from the state. Most the surviving troop returns cover the Revolutionary War period. Lists are usually pay or muster rolls. Returns are usually field or general returns, and report the names of the officers and the number of enlisted men under the commanding officer; names of individual soldiers are rarely included. Prisoner records may be lists of British prisoners, North Carolina Continental Line officers captured by the British, or lists of the prison guards. Draft and enlistment records give the names of the enlisted men and sometimes include descriptions of individual men: height, age, coloring, etc. The Troop Returns are available online through the North Carolina Digital Collections (NCDC).
  • War of 1812 – Muster rolls and pay vouchers; the pay vouchers are available online through the North Carolina Digital Collections (NCDC).
  • Mexican War – Roster of troops that has been published and is available in the search room.
  • Civil War – A roster of Confederate troops has been compiled by Historic Publications called North Carolina Troops; so far 19 volumes have been published and are available in the search room. The North Carolina Union regiments and naval servicemen have not been covered by the book series. 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. Some Confederate pension records are online. The Archives has a complete set of the National Archives microfilm of the service records of Confederate soldiers, including 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—organized by unit and type of record—such as muster rolls, clothing allowances, regimental records, soldiers’ letters, some postwar unit and personal reminiscences and various other types of records. The Civil War Collection has an index done in the 2000s, which is organized by soldiers’ names and units, with references to the box number that the collection the materials are stored in. A selection of Civil War materials are available online through the NCDC. The State Archives Civil War 150 Committee 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.
  • World War I –The Archives has a collection of records called the WWI Papers, collected by the state during and immediately after the war, with multiple collections making up the WWI Papers. The collections include records of those in charge of the war efforts in each North Carolina county; those suspected of and tried for draft evasion, failure to register for the draft, and sedition; and American Red Cross local chapter histories with the names of the women involved during the war. The North Carolina Draft Records (WWI 3) collection includes local draft board induction lists from each county’s draft board, with the names, ages, home towns, and race of individuals sent by the counties to a military camp as part of the federal state military quotas. The Archives has the North Carolina WWI Service Cards, which were originally prepared after WWI by the U.S. War Department for use by the North Carolina Adjutant General’s office. The WWI Service Cards report on men and women who claimed residency in North Carolina and who served in official military capacities—including nurses, medics, and chaplains—during World War I. The cards include such information as name, military service number, home town, age or birth date, place and date of induction, units in which served, ranks held, dates of overseas service, and date of discharge from active military service. These cards are available in the search room on microfilm, or online through a joint effort with
  • World War II – Included in the WWII papers are the original operation records of the state’s Office of Civilian Defense, records of local and state war emergency boards and committees (with names of members of the groups), and county war records (which include school scrapbooks of wartime activities). The North Carolina County War Records includes a selection of local city newsletters sent to soldiers stationed overseas, with news about local schools, community information, fellow local soldiers in service, and local sports team information. The North Carolina Military Camps Publications (WWI 5) includes issues of camp or unit newsletters and publications for various North Carolina military installations during WWII. Individual service members are named in the publications, and there is information on the local communities included in the publications. These camp publications are not indexed, and are incomplete depending on the installation or unit which published them. The WWII Papers also includes military unit books and panoramic photographs, which may include various named individuals, especially related to specific North Carolina military installations like Camp Lejeune.
  • Korean War to Iraq War – The Archives has no military service records for these wars. Miscellaneous military veterans’ papers have been donated over the years, but not usually with detailed information on large numbers of North Carolinians. The military service records for this period are available at the National Archives, or through county records offices for veterans benefits (however, these are restricted to family access only).

The Archives has some material for more modern wars and detailed finding aids are available in the Search Room. 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 2000 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 “Online Collection, Finding Aids, and Digital Collections.” In addition, some private papers, organization records, military collections, and photographic collections have online finding aids available through our website.

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. A guide to newspapers on microfilm (pdf) is available. Several early North Carolina newspapers are available online through the North Carolina Digital Collections. Other newspapers held on microfilm at the State Archives are now available through the Library of Congress project Chronicling America. Additional North Carolina newspapers have been digitized by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. See our blog posts for more newspaper related information.

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