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Searching the State Archives


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For those of you that have never moved your research beyond the census and local county records, this column is for you. There are worlds of genealogical information available at your state archives. For the readers of this column outside North Carolina, I will be referring in large part to the state archives here in North Carolina. This said, odds are your state archives holds similar materials and has similar policies on researching them.

The state archives can be one of the most useful sources of information at your disposal. In addition to the census records and vital statistics that are available, in North Carolina, they hold information on wills, deeds, estate records (for those that died without leaving a will), confederate military records, many Federal government records relating to North Carolina (mostly on microfilm), maps, marriage bonds, even some cemetery listings. Many of these records are not complete (as you’ll find with most about any source of genealogical or historical information), but help fill in gaps that other, locally available records cannot.

Some of the most important records are the estates. Most people, even today die without leaving a will. When I first discovered how valuable wills were in genealogical researched, I searched for wills for every name in my family tree. I was quite disappointed to find so few had left wills and was quite discouraged. Many times wills show family members including children, their spouses, and in-laws. In researching early records this is a very important way of finding out just who that daughter married, or verifying that someone actually was a persons child. Estate records can provide the same benefits. Estates are basically the division of property and settling of debts after the death of an individual. In looking through these records, you’re likely to find names of in-laws children, and children’s spouses. One thing to keep in mind is that someone being absent from a will or estate does not necessarily mean that they weren’t a member of the family. Many times a child would have received their inheritance or dowry at marriage, or some other time years before the death of the parent.

For North Carolina residents that aren’t close enough to make a trip to the archives to check out every lead, you can submit requests for information through e-mail. (Be sure to include your postal address.) The address for this is They will answer your request through snail mail in one to three weeks. You should ask specific questions, such as “do you have an estate record for William Shipley Parker in Buncombe County between 1850-1855″. For most records a county is needed and the approximate years. Of course the name is necessary for them to do any search. Again, for NC residents the search is free, they will tell you what they found and you may purchases copies of the estate if it is found. These run from $2 up depending on the length of the estate. For out of state residents, it costs $8 to perform the same search through the archives, and it’s necessary to send the inquiry through snail mail. I’ll include the address at the end of this column.

For more information on Genealogical Research in the North Carolina State Archives, such as what records are held there, how to search by mail and what circulars are available, you should write to the following address:

North Carolina State Archives
4614 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4614
Fax: (919) 733-1354

A Printable request form can be found here

Revision 2005 – It is possible to inquire online

Next time: Researching on the Internet

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