North Carolina County Records Guide

One of my favorite resources for North Carolina research is the Guide to County Records in the North Carolina State Archives published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. The current edition was published in 2009 and constitutes a major update to the previous edition.

After a short introduction, the Guide goes on to describe both original records, bound and loose, and microfilmed records held at the Archives for each of North Carolina’s 100 existing and four defunct counties. The whole is rounded off by a Glossary where one can find short explanations for the various terms used.

While the Guide does not include original records maintained by county or other agencies (like historical societies), it does list a large portion of the official county records most used by genealogists. These are very detailed lists. For each county, original records are listed first, then microfilmed records. Each of these sections is divided into record types, arranged alphabetically: Bonds, Court Records, Election Records, Estates Records, and so forth, and each of these is further subdivided, where necessary. The subsection for Court Records, for instance, is divided into County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Inferior Court, Justice’s Court, and Superior Court, among others, where records for these courts exist. The records are then listed under each heading or subheading alphabetically by title. After the title, each entry includes the range of years covered, and the type and number of records available.

As an example of how useful this resource can be: I’ve run across a few criminal cases recorded in the court minutes for Macon County that interest me. One is a murder case, State v. Alsey, a slave. The court minutes of this case did not include the victim’s name or the name of Alsey’s owner. Are there loose court records or other bound volumes available that would be useful in investigating this case further?

The entry for Macon County can be found on pages 201 – 204 of the Guide. Microfilmed records for this county are fairly scant: Minutes from the County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1829 – 1868; Plaintiff and Defendant indexes to Judgments, 1938 – 1966, Superior Court; Minutes of the Superior Court, 1869 – 1963; and a Cross Index to Minutes of the Superior Court, 1869 – 1963.

Only one of the reels of microfilm named covers the years during which this murder case was tried. I’ve already exhausted that resource, so I flip back over to the original records section for Macon County to see what court records the Archives might hold. There are a couple of interesting items, including various dockets (covering a wide range of years) and Criminal Action Papers covering the years 1743 – 1971,1 the latter housed in 24 Fibredex boxes. I’m particularly interested in the Criminal Action Papers, since these are loose papers related to criminal cases.

Now I know that there are records that might contain the information I’m looking for. What next? Since these are original, unmicrofilmed records, it means I’ll have to travel to Raleigh to visit the Archives or hire a professional researcher to access these records for me. Still, at least now I know there’s a possibility for further research into both of these court cases, and I can plan my time and resources accordingly.

The Guide to County Records in the North Carolina State Archives is available for purchase through the North Carolina Genealogical Society. It is a must have for anyone researching their Tarheel ancestors.

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1. The first date may be a typographical error. Macon County wasn’t formed until 1828.

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