Delaware Genealogy

In the United States, generally speaking, each state has jurisdiction over the government records that are kept regarding their inhabitants' births, marriages, deaths, divorces, land transactions, probates, health, disease, education etc. They are not responsible for private record-keeping efforts such as those done by churches, cemeteries, community groups, companies, businesses etc. The federal government oversees the taking of the national census every decade, but not of state censuses. Certain cities have also participated in early record-keeping efforts even prior to their state's commencement of such things. And then there are numerous other entities involved with keeping records; these include shipping lines, publication companies (city and county directories, and phone books), orphanages, hospitals and military organizations.

If you are researching your genealogy in Delaware, then this article is for you. Since all states have essentially the same basic types of federal records (census and vital or civil registration), we will devote this article to sources that are available for Delaware genealogy. Much of the information I give in this article comes from Val Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, and This is not a complete list of sources.

Early inhabitants of Delaware belonged to Lenape and Nanticoke tribes. The first white settlers in Delaware genealogy were Dutch (1631), followed by a trading post comprised of Swedes, Finns and Dutch in 1638. In 1664, they were removed by a British expedition headed by James, Duke of York. James passed his ownership to William Penn and thus began a brief history of governance by one person over two colonies. Since Delaware is very small and composed of only three counties, eventually the rest of Pennsylvania did not want to rely on approval from its smaller sister colony, and they split. You may, however, find information on people living in Delaware among Pennsylvania records.

Prior to the American Revolution, Delaware was settled by many slave-owners from Virginia and Maryland. Today, the largest ancestry in Delaware is African American, followed by Irish, German, English and Italian. Many whites came as indentured servants. If you have an indentured servant in your Delaware genealogy, a good source of information is by Nathan Murphy. This is a list of indentured servants and includes variant surname spellings, gender, whether an orphan, position in parents' family if known, landowner, literate, convict, year of indenture, county and colony of indenture, master's name and title, and source of information.

Delaware provided soldiers during the American Revolution and you might be able to trace your Delaware genealogy through Revolutionary War records on By the end of the colonial period, most slaveholders had freed their slaves, encouraged by Methodists and Quakers.

The first independent black denomination (Union Church of Africans) was formed by freed slave Peter Spencer in 1813 in Wilmington, DE. You can look for your Delaware genealogy in church and cemetery records for Delaware by searching for them in the library catalog of the Family History Library at, under the name of the county or town in Delaware. Today, the largest denomination is Methodist, followed by Baptists and Roman Catholics. The Delaware Public Archives Commission in Dover and the Historical Society of Delaware in Wilmington have records for various denominations, and the University of Delaware Library in Newark holds Presbyterian and Baptist records.

During the Civil War, Delaware remained with the Union and was the only slave state from which there were no Confederate military units. Because of this, there are many more records available, and you can find some of these at

In 1671, New Castle County took a census and this is available on microfilm from the Family History Library. This includes biographies on many of the residents and some information on land ownership. Land and naturalization records are also available on microfilm from the Family History Library. Just go to your local family history center (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to order the film.

When doing your Delaware genealogy, there are a lot of sources as mentioned above. Knowing the history of the area will help you decide which records will be the most valuable.

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