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Finding North Carolina Ancestors

North Carolina History

While some Virginians may have moved south to the Albemarle region of North Carolina as early as the 1650s, the formal settlement of the colony began in 1663 when the King of England granted huge tracts of territory to eight of his nobles, who would be known as the Proprietors. North Carolina grew very slowly and in 1729, the Crown bought back the lands from all of the Proprietors except one, Lord Granville, and North Carolina became a royal colony. In the 1770s, the colony declared its independence along with the other colonies and became the State of North Carolina. All of these changes affected what records were made and kept.

North Carolina did not grow largely from east to west. Instead most of the colonial settlers came south from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia into the central Piedmont area and then eventually heading west and south. The most important route to the new lands was the Great Wagon Road (also known as the Great Valley Road).
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Beginning with 2 counties, North Carolina grew and changed until today there are 100 counties. Important tip for genealogists: When a new county is formed, the old records for that geographical area stay with the old county. You may need to look at more than one set of county records, even if your ancestors stayed in the same place.

Use this chart to find when a county was formed and from what other counties: North Carolina County formation.
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This slide show will let you watch North Carolina grow.
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Getting Started

Guides to Research in North Carolina:

Vital Records

Marriage records may be found sporadically as far back as the 1700s. They may be public or church records. Marriage licenses since 1868 were usually filed with the county Register of Deeds office. Marriage notices may also be found in newspapers.

Statewide registration of births and deaths began in 1913 although a few cities or counties may have some earlier records. These records were normally kept by the Register of Deeds for each county. Both births and deaths are supposed to be registered in the county where the event happened.


A Note about
Many of the sources given here are found on This site is continually adding new files and indexing existing files. Be sure to keep checking for new information!

Birth Records

Online birth sources include:

Print birth sources include:

  • 929.3 BIB NCC Bible records of North Carolina : contributed by persons with N.C. ancestors/ [Bible Records Committee, North Carolina Genealogical Society].

Marriage Records

Online marriage sources include:

  • FamilySearch:
  • Ancestry Library Edition:
    • North Carolina Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868. Bonds were optional; they were not required, so they will be found only for a portion of the marriages.
    • North Carolina Marriage Index, 1741-2004, a compilation from several sources.
  • North Carolina Digital Collections
    • Family Records Collection contains Indexed marriage and death announcements from five North Carolina newspapers (Raleigh Register, North Carolina State Gazette, Daily Sentinel, Raleigh Observer, and News & Observer) from 1799 to 1893.

Print marriage sources include:

  • 929.3 BIB NCC Bible records of North Carolina : contributed by persons with N.C. ancestors/ [Bible Records Committee, North Carolina Genealogical Society].
  • 929.3 WHI NCC Somebody knows my name: marriages of freed people in North Carolina county by county, by Barnetta McGhee White. (v. 1. Introduction, Alexander - Guilford counties -- v. 2. Halifax - Sampson counties -- v. 3. Stokes - Wilson counties, Index.)
  • 929.3756 NOR N.C.C. North Carolina marriages: 1801-1825 : a research tool / edited by Jordan R. Dodd.
    (Book 1: Early to 1800 -- Book 2: 1801-1825)

Online divorce sources include:

Print divorce sources:

  • 929.3756 MCB NCC. Divorces and separations from petitions to the North Carolina General Assembly, 1779-1837.

Death Records

Online death sources include:

  • Family Search:
    • North Carolina Deaths, 1906-1930. Images of death certificates are included.
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    • North Carolina Deaths, 1931-1994. Index, with some images of death certificates included.
      (Select "View the Record Details" for possible death certificate image)
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    • South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1965 Name index and images of South Carolina death records. Records arranged by year and alphabetically by locality.
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  • Ancestry Library Edition:
    • North Carolina, Death Indexes, 1908-2004.
    • North Carolina Death Certificates, 1909-1975.
  • North Carolina Digital Collections
    • Family Records Collection contains Indexed marriage and death announcements from five North Carolina newspapers (Raleigh Register, North Carolina State Gazette, Daily Sentinel, Raleigh Observer, and News & Observer) from 1799 to 1893.

Wills, estate files, and other probate records may also provide a death date along with other information on a family:

  • Family Search
    • North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979. Index and images of estate files from North Carolina counties. Files are arranged alphabetically within each county.
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    • North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970. Browse images including wills, guardianships and estate records. Most of the records in this collection are from 1800-1930.
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  • Ancestry Library Edition (available in all library branches):
    • North Carolina Will Abstracts, 1660-1790.
    • North Carolina Will Abstracts, 1760-1800.
    • North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998
  • North Carolina Digital Collections
    • The Secretary of State Wills digital collection contains wills from 1663 to 1789. These are loose original wills probated in the province.
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    • The Colonial Court Records digital collection includes the series "Estate Papers, CCR. 179-CCR.186" which contains papers from cases concerning estates.
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  • 929.3756 MIT NCC. North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665-1900, corrected and revised ed., 1992.
  • 929.3768 WAS NCC Washington County, Tennessee, settlements of estates, volume 00, 1790-1841 (reprinted 2012). Washington County, TN includes early settlers from North Carolina, and was originally part of North Carolina until N.C. ceded the land to the Continental Congress on December 22, 1789. In 1792 North Carolina annexed back some land from Washington County and in 1796 the remainder of Washington County became part of the new State of Tennessee.

Digital Collections

More and more records and books are being placed online. The sites below are important for North Carolina research.


Digital collections:


Find what North Carolina newspapers were printed in a county or city: North Carolina Newspapers Index, a pdf file.
This is NOT an index to newspaper contents.
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Guide to Newspapers on Microfilm in the North Carolina State Archives.
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Also search the North Carolina Newspaper Locator for newspaper microfilm by county, town, title, or date range housed at the N.C. Government & Heritage Library.
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Search the State Library of North Carolina's Genealogical Indexes and Abstracts of Newspapers to find indexes to genealogical information in Newspapers. These indexes are located in the State Library's Genealogical Research Room unless otherwise indicated.
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Digital collections:

More Maps by Topic: see North Carolina Maps

Land Records

Original land "grants" or "patents" were made by the government at the time: the proprietors, the royal colony, and then the state government. (See North Carolina History above.) Once a piece of land had been granted to its first owner, any future sales were transactions between individuals and were recorded at the Register of Deeds office, usually, but not always, in the county where the land was located. Records of land grants are at the North Carolina State Archives.

Digital collections:

  • Search the NC Land Grant Images and Data for North Carolina land grant documents including names, dates and locations for years 1663 through 1960.
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Online sources include:

Two useful articles explaining how the systems worked are:

Here are the call numbers in this library for some of the books mentioned in the Archives guide:

  • 929.3756 NOR NCC. North Carolina Headrights: A List of Names, 1663-1744.
  • 929.3 H NCC. Province of North Carolina, 1663-1729: Abstracts of Land Patents.
  • 929.3 H NCC. Colony of North Carolina, 1735-1764: Abstracts of Land Patents. Vol. 1: 1735 - 1764; Vol. 2: 1765 - 1775.
  • 929.3 HOF NCC, Vol. 1.. North Carolina Abstracts of State Grants. Library has vol. 1 only.
  • 929.3 GRA NCC. The Granville District of North Carolina, 1748 - 1763: Abstracts of Land Grants (5 volumes).

    Other places to look:
  • 929.3 PRU NCC. Index to North Carolina Land Entries (1778-1795), People with surnames: A-Z, (3 volumes) pub. 2001. Indexes 66 sources.
  • 929.3 PRU NCC. Place Name Index to North Carolina Land Entries (1778-1795), pub. 2001. Indexes 66 sources.
  • 929.3 PRU NCC. Index of People and Places in North Carolina Land Warrants (1735-1774), pub. 2004. Indexes 11 sources.
  • 929.3 N NCC. North Carolina land grants in Tennessee, 1778-1791, pub. 1981.
  • 929.3 PRU NCC. North Carolina land warrants in Tennessee , valid and invalid, pub. 2004.
  • 929.3 PRU NCC. Tennessee land entries: Washington County (1778-1796)
  • Search the State Archives MARS Online Catalog. Some digital images are available.
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Tax Records

In the Tax Assessment Records, you can find information on where your ancestors lived, their occupations, wealth, and luxury items they may have owned.

  • North Carolina Digital Collections from the State Archives and State Library includes Tax Lists and Records Collection. Most of the tax records are from the Colonial and Revolutionary War eras, but some lists date from as late as 1809.
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  • 929.3756 N N.C.C.  North Carolina taxpayers, 1701-1786, vol. 1.; North Carolina taxpayers, 1679-1790, vol. 2. Compiled by Clarence E. Ratcliff.
  • Internal Revenue Assessment List for North Carolina, 1864-1866 Browse images by State, then by County.
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  • Tax books, 1778-1861. Washington County, Tennessee (formerly North Carolina)
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  • Ancestry Library Edition (available in all library branches):
    • U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918
  • 1867 – 1874 Tax Assessment Lists for North and South Carolina are available at the National Archives at Atlanta.



Author: Gaston County Public Library
Title: Finding North Carolina Ancestors
Revised: 23 January 2019

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