Background Sources for North Carolina

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the North Carolina Family History Research series.
History of North Carolina
North Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for North Carolina
Background Sources for North Carolina
North Carolina Maps
North Carolina Land Records
North Carolina Probate Records
North Carolina Court Records
North Carolina Tax Records
North Carolina Cemetery Records
North Carolina Church Records
North Carolina Military Records
North Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
North Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Ethnic Groups of North Carolina
North Carolina County Resources
Map of North Carolina


An essential guide for research in North Carolina is Helen F. M. Leary and Maurice R. Stirewalt, eds., North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, 2d ed. (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996). In addition to being specific about the locations of sources, it provides excellent suggestions for research strategies and the interpretation of records in their historical context. See also Helen F. M. Leary, “A Master Plan for North Carolina Research,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 75 (1987):15-36.

A history of North Carolina by William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, N.C., and London, England: University of North Carolina Press, 1989) is a new standard textbook for college level work and very readable for the general public.

The laws of North Carolina are available in many publications. The most accessible is James Iredell, comp., Laws of the State of North Carolina (Edenton, N.C.: James Iredell, 1791), reprinted as The First Laws of the State of North Carolina (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1984).

The North Carolina Office of Archives and History has published several guides to its holdings, the most notable of which is Guide to Research Materials in the North Carolina State Archives, Section B: County Records (11th rev. ed., 2d printing, Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1997). It details both original and microfilmed records held by the agency and available for purchase on microfilm. A catalog of other publications is also available from the North Carolina State Archives.

The University of North Carolina Press offers excellent materials for placing ancestors in the context of local history within the state. Their catalog can be searched online at http://uncpress.unc.edu. Joe A. Mobley has edited a revised edition of the original five volume series of The Way We Lived (Chapel Hill, N.C. and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2003). The new publication includes all five original parts in one volume, with the fifth part extended thirty years in time: Elizabeth A. Fenn and Peter Wood, Natives and Newcomers: North Carolina before 1770; Harry T. Watson, An Independent People: North Carolina, 1770–1820; Thomas H. Clayton, Close to the Land: North Carolina, 1820–1870; Sydney Nathans, A Quest for Progress: North Carolina, 1870–1920; and Thomas A. Parramore, Express Lanes & Country Roads: North Carolina, 1920–2001.

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