North Carolina 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 were not responsible for private record-keeping efforts such as those done by churches, cemeteries, community groups, companies, businesses etc. Certain cities 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 North Carolina, then this article is for you. We will discuss how to obtain the basic types of federal records (census and vital or civil registration) that are available for most states, as well as those peculiar to North Carolina genealogy, by focusing on helps available online from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Among the many things their website,, offers is Research Helps. They do have a new website,, but for research you want the older version. When you are into, click on Research Helps. You will see two options - Guidance and Helps. If you click on Guidance, you will be asked to select a place - if you are interested in genealogy in North Carolina, click on N, then North Carolina, United States. Once you are on that page, you will be asked to select an event (Birth, Marriage or Death) and a time period. What you select will depend on what you already know about your ancestor and what you want to know.

On the other hand, if you are unfamiliar with researching genealogy in North Carolina, you will likely want to click on Helps, then click on N, then scroll down to North Carolina. There you will see four different topics - Federal Censuses, Historical Background, Research Outline and Statewide Indexes and Collections. For the beginning genealogist, I recommend Research Outline. You can download the PDF version by clicking on the icon in the top right corner of your screen, or you can simply review it by clicking on the icon but not downloading it. For North Carolina genealogy, there are 48 pages, and you need Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can also order the paper copy, which may also be available at your local family history center.

Note that the Records Selection Table on pages 3 and 4 is best for ancestors who lived after 1850. After that is an alphabetically-arranged topical guide to sources available for North Carolina genealogy, starting with Archives and Libraries, Bible Records, Biography, Cemeteries and so forth down to Voting Registers. Each section includes a description of the topic, reference material (including the call number if the item is at the Family History Library), addresses and jurisdictions. At the end, it refers you to two free brochures offered by the state government.

One of the first record sources that most people will search, if your ancestor lived after 1790, is the federal census which was taken every 10 years. Until 1850, the census contains little data of genealogical value except to place your ancestor at a certain place at a particular time, with the ages and gender of the people in his household and general description of his occupation. But, in 1850, censuses began to contain information on every person in each household. You should remember to be flexible when it comes to the spelling of names and ages; the enumerator put down only what he was told or how he thought a person's name was spelled. And he might not have gotten around to every home.

Of course, there are many sources to search for your genealogy in North Carolina and the census is but one of them. Remember too that, while many records that you might otherwise have used to search for your North Carolina genealogy were burned during the Civil War, many were not in the local courthouses and can be located with a little effort. Land and property (including slaves) records, too, take on additional value in the South.

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