County Records available at the North Carolina State Archives

These county record files were contributed by the
North Carolina Archives and History in September, 2006


Since 1963, the North Carolina State Archives has been publishing guides to its holdings, including state agency records, county records, private manuscript collections and Civil War material. While each edition has been expanded and improved, this eleventh revised edition of the guide to county records represents a major advancement in accuracy and standardization. In conjunction with each annual inventory since January 1991 and continuing as a full-time responsibility of the supervisor of the Local Records Sub-unit of the Arrangement and Description Unit since April 1995, many descriptive titles have been improved and standardized, inclusive dates corrected, and new material added. This edition describes more than 9,000 bound volumes and 21,000 boxes of loose records, as well as over 24,000 reels of microfilm, all of which are available to researchers in the State Archives.

The North Carolina State Archives began systematically seeking and accepting non-current local records from the various counties in 1916 under authority of a 1907 statute permitting their transfer to the Archives. Thanks in large measure to the tactful determination of Colonel Fred A. Olds, director of the Hall of History, seven counties— Carteret, Chowan, Edgecombe, Halifax, Orange, Perquimans and Wilkes— took advantage of the act and transferred some of their oldest records to the Archives. Forty additional counties had followed suit by 1924, so that the handbook issued that year describing the county records in the Archives included approximately 500 volumes, 90 boxes of loose papers and 414 boxes of marriage bonds. By the time the Historical Records Survey of the Works Progress Administration inventoried the county records in the Archives in 1938, another 950 volumes, 100 boxes of papers and 160,000 documents had been transferred from the counties. In 1941 the Archives, with the assistance of the Genealogical Society of Utah, commenced a program for microfilming many of the records, such as will books and deed books, that were generally retained in the counties. This program was interrupted in 1943 because of the war and not fully resumed until ten years later.

In 1957, the General Assembly authorized the creation of an "inspector of county records" whose task it would be to visit all the courthouses in the state and, with his staff, inventory the records found in them, microfilm volumes of permanent value for purposes of security, determine which of the records were not worth permanent preservation, set up schedules for the orderly transfer of permanently valuable non-current records to the Archives, and arrange and describe them for public use once they were there. This officer and his staff provided a solid basis for an effective local records program. By 1970, the local records staff had completed records inventories and disposition schedules for all 100 counties, and many county officers had availed themselves of the opportunity to free up storage space in their offices.

In 1981, an internal reorganization of the Archives and Records Section divided the functions of the local records program between the Records Services Branch, which helps counties and municipalities manage their records through scheduling, microfilming, and records-keeping consultations, and the Archival Services Branch, which appraises, arranges, describes, and references the permanently valuable county records that have been sent to the State Archives in accordance with the disposition schedules. By the time of the reorganization, the local records staff had produced more than 46,000 reels of microfilm, many for security purposes only, supervised the restoration and rebinding of over 2,800 volumes in the Archives and in the counties, and encouraged the voluntary transfer of some 5,900 volumes and 6,000 cubic feet of loose records.

The "Guide to County Records" is a testament to the success of the local records program. Records listed herein are categorized as either original records or microfilm copies, and grouped within each category by series: bonds, census (county copies), corporations and partnerships, courts, elections, estates, land, marriage and vital statistics, military and pension, officials, roads and bridges, schools, tax and fiscal, and wills. Unfortunately, many very interesting and valuable records remain hidden under the heading of "Miscellaneous Records," but space considerations prevent a more elaborate listing. The brief descriptions included in this guide are not intended to replace the more detailed finding aids available to researchers in the Archives’ Search Room.

The vast majority of the records listed in this guide have been transferred to the State Archives from the offices of clerks of superior court and registers of deeds. Others have originated in the offices of tax supervisors, boards of county commissioners, boards of education, health departments, and social services directors. The Archives maintains a very precise registration of the provenance of the county records in its custody, although there is some confusion as to the office of origin and date of transfer of certain records received in the early years of the program. Researchers needing such information are encouraged to contact the registrar of the Archives and Records Section.

The local records program owes a considerable debt to an inventory of county records conducted in the 1930s by the Historical Records Survey of the Works Progress Administration. Interested researchers are urged to consult the three-volume report of this survey, edited by Dr. C. Christopher Crittenden and Dan Lacy and published as "The Historical Records of North Carolina: The County Records" (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 1938-1939). The introduction to the series, reprinted as a pamphlet entitled "Introduction to the County Records of North Carolina" (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 1938), contains an excellent historical resume of the county court system in North Carolina and a detailed analysis of the various records produced by the courts. Both the "Historical Records" and the "Introduction" are out of print, but copies may be consulted in libraries throughout the state; there is a full set of the three-volume series in the Archives’ Search Room.

Researchers whose interests range over a long period of time or concern a county that has been subdivided will find valuable information in "The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663- 1943" (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1950, reprinted with corrections in 1975), by David Leroy Corbitt. This volume is the principal source for the dates and origins of county formations cited in this guide.

The first edition of the guide to county records was compiled in 1972 by Gregory B. Coudriet and other members of the Local Records staff from earlier drafts and finding aids. Subsequent editions reflecting additional holdings and changes to the finding aids were prepared under the direction of Frank D. Gatton, head of the Local Records Branch and later assistant state archivist and assistant records administrator. The fourth edition was particularly significant, as it was revised in its entirety. All entries were checked against the original records rather than the finding aids. Gaps in series were indicated and headnotes added to explain absences of records.

In the preparation of this the eleventh revised edition, the process utilized for the fourth edition was partially duplicated. After card catalogues had been carefully compared with titles, dates and call numbers of original records over the course of several annual inventories, all guide entries were then compared with the listings in the card catalogues (both original records and microfilm) and, when discrepancies were discovered, with the records. Gaps or overlaps in dates often suggested an error in the description, resulting in the discovery of many presumably "missing" volumes.

Whenever titles for like records varied from county to county, they have been standardized. Call numbers were also made uniform, although they are not indicated in the guide. The records of several older counties, such as Bertie, Hyde and Tyrrell, that were arranged and transferred before the creation of the "Local Records Procedures Manual" in 1966 have been brought into conformity with the standards of description established by the manual.

Throughout the guide, the attempt at uniformity will be most apparent in the court dockets and, to a lesser extent, in the series of estates records. Historically, clerks of county courts, inferior and superior, have maintained four principal dockets: the court minutes, a docket of civil causes, a docket of criminal cases, and an execution docket. During the colonial period and into the early years of statehood, the various components of the civil docket—trial, appearance, petition, reference and appeal—were usually kept together within a single volume. As cases proliferated in the early nineteenth century, most clerks found it expedient to maintain the several civil dockets in separate books. Over the years, archivists have described and numbered the early conjoined civil dockets in various ways. This edition of the guide brings these together within each county under a standardized title, in most cases as "Trial, Appearance and Reference Docket" or "Reference (Trial) and Appearance Docket." The call numbers have likewise been made uniform: 308 for the civil docket of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, and 322 for that of county superior court. Incidentally, in the process of sorting out the oldest civil dockets, we have discovered that the so-called reference dockets of the colonial county courts are in essence trial dockets, "reference" used in the sense of causes referred to the present term of court for trial. In later years, reference dockets served the more traditional purpose of tracking civil causes referred to a referee for determination.

Within the estates series, pre-1868 volumes that contain a multiplicity of records related to the administration of estates, including inventories, accounts of sale, annual accounts and final settlements, have been brought together under the heading "Record of Estates," with a 501 call number. Records of appointments of executors have been retitled to indicate the inclusion of administrators, guardians, and masters of apprentices. Practically all records, both original and microfilm, relating to assignees, receivers, and trustees, except those truly concerned with estates matters, have been removed from the estates series to the miscellaneous records and assigned a 929 call number.

Other records affected by standardization include levy dockets, which have been removed from land or miscellaneous records and filed with court records (310); clerk’s minute dockets, mistakenly classified with court minutes, which have been grouped with special proceedings and orders and decrees (922); civil actions concerning railroads, which have been retitled railroad records within the series of road records (925); and records concerning land sales for taxes, formerly classified as tax records, now filed under land (407). A variety of accounting records created by committees of finance, county treasurers, auditors and clerks of court have been collected under the heading “County Accounts and Claims” (910). One other title of microfilm records has been reclassified. The accounts of sales and resales of land by mortgagees and trustees have been removed from the estates series and assigned numbers in the land series.

Microfilm of county records has been produced either from originals that have been transferred to the State Archives or from volumes retained by the counties. Much of this film is stored in the Archives’ vault for security purposes and may not be accessed for general reference. However, for the convenience of researchers, reading copies have been made of older records with considerable reference value. To avoid the confusion that might ensue for those wishing to order a copy from microfilm, the titles of reels were not as a rule corrected and standardized as were those of original records; only the most egregious errors, including the classification of the two titles mentioned above, were corrected. As a result, there will be many cases in which the title of an original record and that of its microfilm copy will not agree.

In previous editions of this guide, records were arranged strictly alphabetically within each series. This edition has adopted a more functional approach, grouping similar records within the series and arranging them by their (implied) call numbers. For example, all records relating to the naturalization of aliens are listed at the beginning of the miscellaneous records, reflecting their 902 call numbers.

One final word: Users of this edition should be aware that it, like its predecessors, is but a static indicator of a fluid process. The archival holdings of original and microfilmed records change constantly, as the Arrangement and Description Unit staff members continue to appraise and transfer records from the counties, and as reading copies of microfilm are added to the Search Room. This edition represents county records holdings as of May 1, 1997.

A number of staff members of the Archival Services Branch, interns, and volunteers have contributed to this revision of the guide to county records. Kenrick N. Simpson, supervisor of the Local Records Sub-unit of the Arrangement and Description Unit, compared descriptions in the previous edition with the county card catalogue; examined the original records in cases of discrepancies; made corrections to the guide, the cards, and labels on the records; selected standardized titles and call numbers in accordance with the "Local Records Procedures Manual" if applicable or, if the manual did not address a particular type of record, the law or code that dictated the creation of the record; reviewed the same process involving microfilm records; and provided general oversight to the project. J. Mark Valsame of the Local Records Sub-unit compared listings of microfilm records with the card catalogue descriptions. William H. Brown, microfilm reference archivist, and Daniel J. Salemson, temporary employee, made corrections to the microfilm cards and labels. Benjamin S. (Tres) Lovelace, a state government intern, entered all the corrections and additions to the guide, verified creation dates of counties, and selected photographs from the Iconographic Collection of the Archives. George Stevenson, private collections archivist, assisted in the identification of several obscure eighteenth-century court records. Druscilla R. Simpson, information management archivist, edited the final version for style and appearance. Temporary employee Andra M. Knecht copied the cards from the original and microfilm card catalogues to facilitate the comparison of descriptions and the guide. Volunteer Nora Jane Cain tabulated the volumes, boxes, and reels in this revision to provide the figures noted in this introduction.

The present edition marks a new high in our continuing effort to make the guide of maximum usefulness to those who consult it. With the new material that has been added and the corrections that have been made, this edition replaces in their entirety all earlier editions of the county records guide.

David J. Olson
State Archivist

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