Skip to Main Content

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).
Go to:

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.
Go to:

This slide show will let you watch North Carolina grow.
Go to:

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries View Interactive North Carolina Map and text covering the historical boundaries, names, organization, and attachments of every county, extinct county and unsuccessful county proposal from the creation of the first county through December 31, 2000.

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.

North Carolina Vital Records Guide
Information and links for finding North Carolina Birth, Marriage, and Death Records.
Go to:

North Carolina Vital Records Ordering
Request certified copies of North Carolina birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. NOTE: If ordering time frame does not meet your needs, "you may want to consider ordering a birth, death or marriage certificate from the Register of Deeds in the county where the event occurred. Divorce certificates may also be obtained from the clerk of court  in the county where the divorce is filed."
Go to:

NC Vital Records: Research
Information about finding records dated earlier than those found in NC Office of Vital Records, locating Birth Records Outside of North Carolina, and conducting genealogical research with vital records.
Go to:


"South Carolina Probate" website includes an index of marriages for many of the South Carolina counties.
Go to:

Birth Records

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!

Online birth sources include:

Print birth sources include:

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

Online bastardy bonds (Illegitimate children):

Print bastardy bonds (Illegitimate children):

  • 929.3 CAM NCC North Carolina Bastardy Bonds by Betty J. Camin; Edwin A. Camin. Published 1990.
  • 929.3 HOL NCC Gaston County bastard bonds : volume I bonds 1-102, 1869-1882 by Clyde Holland II. Published 2012.
  • 975.677 NOR NCC Bonds, bastardy [microform]. Gaston County by Raleigh, N.C. : N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Archives and Records Section. C.040.10002. 1869-1882

Marriage Records

Online marriage sources include:

  • FamilySearch:
  • Ancestry Library Edition: (available in all library branches):
    • North Carolina, Index to Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868. Bonds were optional; they were not required, so they will be found only for a portion of the marriages. (When planning to marry, the prospective groom took out a bond from the clerk of the court in the county where the bride had her usual residence as surety that there was no legal obstacle to the proposed marriage)
    • North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011, Includes marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers, as well as indexes and abstracts to the various records from 87 North Carolina counties. Of special interest to African American researchers are records of cohabitation, which were required to be recorded in 1866 in order for the marriages of recently emancipated enslaved people to be legally recognized.
    • North Carolina Marriage Index, 1741-2004, index compilation from several sources.
  • North Carolina Digital Collections

Print marriage sources include:

  • 929.3 AUS NCC North Carolina, South Carolina Bible records. [compiled by] Jeannette Holland Austin.
  • 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 MAR NCC. Marriages from early Tennessee newspapers, 1794-1851. by Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • 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)
  • 929.3768 S N.C.C. Early East Tennessee marriages. 2 v. by Byron Sistler.
  • 976.897 MAR NCC. Marriage record of Washington County, Tennessee, 1787-1840. compiled by Norma Rutledge Grammer and Marion Day Mullins.

Online divorce sources include:

  • FamilySearch:
  • Ancestry Library Edition: (available in all library branches):
    • North Carolina, Divorce Index, 1958-2004. Index to divorces that occurred in North Carolina between 1958 and 2004.

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:

Wills, Estate Records

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


    According to the Archives of North Carolina, "Since 1760, original wills were under the jurisdiction of the county in which it was probated. Prior to 1760, wills were filed with the Secretary of State and are maintained with these records.  When an individual died without a will, the probate of their estate is maintained in separate Estate files."
Archives has the North Carolina Loose Estates, County Index.

  • 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.
      Go to:
    • 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.
      Go to:
  • Ancestry Library Edition (available in all library branches):
  • North Carolina Digital Collections
    • The Secretary of State Wills digital collection contains N.C. wills from 1663 to 1789. "These are loose original wills probated in the province. After 1760, most original wills were kept by the clerk in the county in which they were probated, though there are some wills after 1760 in the collection. These wills are indexed in the Mitchell Will Index categorized with "SS/AR".
      Go to:
    • The Colonial Court Records digital collection includes the series "Estate Papers, CCR. 179-CCR.186" which contains papers from cases concerning estates.
      Go to:
    • The Mitchell Will Index (North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665-1900) is available online. Click on the link for “Show advanced search options”. Type “Mitchell Will Index” into the Title search field.
      Go to:
    • Abstract of North Carolina wills, compiled from original and recorded wills in the office of the Secretary of State, by J. Bryan Grimes.
      Go to:
  • 929.3 ABS NCC Abstract of North Carolina wills, compiled from original and recorded wills in the office of the Secretary of State, by J. Bryan Grimes,1910.
  • 929.3756 MIT NCC. North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665-1900, corrected and revised ed., 1992.
  • 929.3768 BUR NCC. Greene County, Tennessee, wills, 1783-1890, pub. 1981.
  • 929.3768 BUR NCC. Washington County, Tennessee wills, 1777-1872, pub. 1983.
  • 929.3768 SIS NCC. Index to Tennessee wills & administrations, 1779-1861 by Sistler, Byron.
  • 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. Washington County was formed from Washington District in 15 November 1777 by Act of the General Assembly of North Carolina. 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.


"South Carolina Probate" website includes an index of probate for many of the South Carolina counties. Some records contain images.
Go to:

Census Records

Visit Census LibGuide for more information about United States and North Carolina Census records.

Go to:

Education, Schools, Colleges

Digital Collections

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


Digital collections:

State Library of North Carolina Library Card

"As a resident of North Carolina, you can sign up for a library card at the Government & Heritage Library, part of the State Library of North Carolina (SLNC).  To get your library card, fill out the online library card application form.

Card holders can access many online resources and databases including Newspaper databases.

North Carolina Newspapers Index 

Find what North Carolina newspapers were printed in a county or city: North Carolina Newspaper Index, a pdf file.
This is NOT an index to newspaper contents.
Go to:

Guide to Newspapers on Microfilm in the North Carolina State Archives 

Guide to Newspapers on Microfilm in the North Carolina State Archives. August 2022. a pdf file.
Go to:

North Carolina Newspaper Locator 

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.
Go to:

Genealogical Indexes and Abstracts of Newspapers 

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.
Go to:


Digital Collections:

County Formations:


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.
    Go to:
  • Index to Land Warrants, Plats of Survey, and Related Land Grant Records, 1679-1959. Tennessee and North Carolina counties arranged alphabetical by county. Click on the link for “Show advanced search options”. Type “Land Warrants, Plats of Survey” into the Title search field.
    Go to:
  • Search the South Carolina Land Records for South Carolina deeds (a few counties currently available).
    Go to:

Online sources include:

Several 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:
  • 929.2 PHI NCC Upper Broad River Basin pioneers, 1750-1760 / by Miles S. Philbeck.
  • 929.3 GRE NCC. Greene County, Tennessee deed abstracts. [V. 1.] Register of Deeds: vols. 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 -- [v. 2.] Register of Deeds: vols. 9-12.
  • 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 N NCC. North Carolina land grants recorded in Greene County, Tennessee, 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)
  •  929.3 PRU NCC. Tennessee land entries, John Armstrong's Office by Pruitt, Albert Bruce.
  •  929.3 PRU NCC. Tennessee land entries, military bounty land, Martin Armstrong's office by Pruitt, Albert Bruce.
  • Search the State Archives collections by using Discover Online Catalog (DOC). Some digital images are available.
    Go to:

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.

Voter Registration

929.375 WYN NCC. North Carolina extant voter registrations of 1867, by Frances Holloway Wynne. has the North Carolina, Voter Registers and Certificates of Registration, 1868-1964. Index and images of voter registration lists and certificates of permanent registration from various counties in North Carolina.
Go To:

South Carolina Abstract of Voter Registrations Reported to the Military Government, 1868. This series records the name and race of each registered voter, arranged first alphabetically by South Carolina county.
Go to:

Bible Records


Online sources include:

Print sources include:

Author: Gaston County Public Library
Title: Finding North Carolina Ancestors
Revised: 6 December 2022

┬ęCopyright 2021, Gaston County Public Library. All Rights Reserved.