North Carolina's Research Tips

The following are a few tips that can help anyone with their research in the current state of North Carolina.

Please remember that county boundaries have been fluid. Your ancestor may have lived in the same place for many years, but with the county boundaries changing, the records were kept in different places. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people didn't necessarily file their records in the courthouse for the county in which they lived, or the transaction took place. Please keep an open mind when searching. Also, the state line between North and South Carolina was not clearly established until 1802, although there is still debate today as to where the actual state line belongs.

Vital Records

Birth and Death certificates were not kept by the state of North Carolina until 1917. However, some of the counties, in anticipation of this requirement kept some records prior to that. When the records were first required, not all records were complete. In the case of death records, please look at the informant when determining the accuracy of the information. At times, the doctor who was there to certify the death was the informant and may not have known who the parents were or where they were born.

Do not forget to look in the delayed births. Delayed birth certificates are still being created today for individuals who were born at home without a doctor present.

Marriages -- before Governor Tryon, only clergy from the Church of England were legally allowed to marry couples. Other denominations' clergy found it illegal to solemnize marriages. They still married couples, but a bible record may be the only proof, if it exists at all. Royal Governor Tryon changed that law, making it legal for any clergyman to join couples in holy matrimony. For this reason, marriage records before 1770 may be difficult to locate.

Court Records

Apprenticeship Bonds -- when a child was farmed out, an apprenticeship bond would be created. The bond would state who the child was being farmed out to and what the bondsman would be responsible for teaching the child, sometimes an art or trade, and sometimes to ensure that the child received the appropriate schooling. The child was to stay in one location with the bondsman, as the bondsman received money for the support of the child, usually until they were age 21.

Bastardy Bonds -- When an unmarried woman had a child, a bastardy bond was filed in order to have money to support that child. Although DNA testing wasn't available then, a man who suspected they were the father may have signed the bond. Sometimes the bondsman would be a father or brother to the child's mother. Don't assume that the father was the bondsman. There have been cases where the husband died during a war, either from wounds or a disease, and the woman didn't report his death for a year, just so a bastardy bond wouldn't be filed. (A prime example is when you find a Civil War soldier who was killed in the battle at Gettysburg, but has a death date of July 1864.)

Road Crews -- these lists are usually those who were selected to maintain or build certain sections of the roads. Many times, road crews were selected based upon where they lived. However, sometimes crimes were punished by being assigned to a road crew for a specific number of days.

Land Records
In order to get the best picture of where your ancestor was, despite the changing of the county boundaries, try to locate a land grant or deed. Many times there will be a description of the property. Although many of the trees used to identify the exact location may be long gone, the reference to the body of water or the neighbors can give a general location which can help determine exactly which of today's county they lived in. For example, if your ancestor lived on South Fork River, you would quickly discern that that was Mecklenburg County in 1767, Tryon County in 1769, Lincoln County in 1779 and today is in Gaston County. If your record is from 1767, you could search Mecklenburg County for the records themselves, but in trying to identify where they could be buried, you would not look in Mecklenburg County. Also, please remember that some of the rivers and streams have changed course over the past two hundred years.

Church Records
If possible, try to identify your ancestor's religious affiliation. Although a building may be a specific denomination today, it may not have always been that particular denomination. Some of the denominations keep wonderful libraries of records which, as a researcher, are well worth a trip to go through. Some of the oldest denominations in North Carolina are Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal. Baptist churches seemed to have evolved from "meeting houses" in areas where many different backgrounds came. Episcopal churches began in North Carolina as Church of England. When the Germans came to North Carolina, they brought their Lutheran backgrounds with them. When the Scottish Highlanders came to North Carolina, they brought Presbyterianism with them. Other denominations have also flourished in North Carolina.

Census Records
All of the censuses were taken door to door. Look at the neighbors, as people tended to move in groups, so as your ancestor relocated, you will find that they went with the same families as they moved on. Ideally, the census taker would have spelled the name correctly and gotten the ages and relationships correct. This is not an ideal world. If you find that ages and/or relationships are wrong, check another census, as it may be that the informant for the census was a neighbor. If your ancestor is 45 in 1850 and 65 in 1870, but 50 in 1860, chances are the information on the 1860 census was given by someone else who was not fully informed.

Another possible help is knowing which postal area they were located. Since many of these smaller post offices have been closed, it can still provide information. Particularly since counties were formed. If your ancestor is listed at a specific post office on one census in one county, but the same post office but a differenct county in the next census, you are given a good idea of where they were located.

Military Records
Ideally, everyone who served in the military would have complete service records and/or pension records. As stated before, this is not an ideal world. Some counties have militia records which can be researched in that county (again, you would need to know the county at the time, not what county it is today). The veterans schedule of 1890. Please remember that this schedule includes not only veterans, but also includes widows.

Revolutionary War Soldiers: Not only do you have those who served on the continental line, but you also have militia. Do not forget that some served for the British cause, both on the line and also as militia. It was also not uncommon to have brother against brother, father against son, or to switch sides in the middle of a battle if things weren't going well for the particular side you were fighting on. Pension records are worth searching, as sometimes they include the names of spouses and children and/or other relationships. The databases available through Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) can also provide clues. The patriot index for both of these organizations is constantly being updated. Following the end of the American Revolution, those supporting the British forfeited property and, in many cases, either returned to England or moved to Canada to safeguard their lives. Some returned to the US after a period of exile. Another interesting thing to note is that some of those who supported the British moved "over the mountains" and settled the area that was The Watauga Association, and later, the State of Franklin. While many of these men took part in the Overmountain March on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain, not all were patriots.
Civil War Soldiers: Although many men enlisted in the Confederacy, the deprivations endured by the South caused some to attempt to escape and "switch sides". By the end of the war, Confederate camps used guards, not only to protect from Union Troops, but also to keep the Confederate Troops from leaving. Those who deserted could be shot for it. Confederate soldiers were recruited generally in an area. If you know what unit the individual was in, check to see what counties that unit was recruited from to begin your search.

Other Sources
Newspapers -- not just for obituaries, but for tidbits of information which can provide clues. Although many of these are not indexed, they are still a treasure trove if you have the time to just peruse them. The local happenings columns, which give many names and sometimes relationships. Sometimes these can also provide clues to maiden names and possible locations. At the end of the tax year, you may have lists of those who haven't paid their tax bills. It would be wonderful if everyone had an obituary, but until the late 1960s, obituaries were usually only printed for prominent individuals and sometimes for children. However, in the community news, you may find a blurb about a death, including lists of relatives who went to the funeral.

County Heritage Books -- Many of the counties in North Carolina have published and sold Heritage Books about their county. (There is one on the Toe River Valley that includes more than one county.) Some have created more than one volume. While some of the information available in these books is well sourced, others leave the researcher guessing where the information came from. Please remember that these articles are only as good as the informant's researching abilities. But, they can be a great source of clues. Not all counties have published these gems.

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