North Carolina History

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United States Gotoarrow.png North Carolina Gotoarrow.png History

Effective family history research requires some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends can help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns.

State, county, and local histories often contain biographical sketches of local citizens, including important genealogical information. This may be one of the best sources of information for some families.
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Brief History

The following important events in the history of North Carolina affected political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements:

  • 1560s:  The area that is now North Carolina was visited by the Spaniard Pardo and his soldiers. Records are at the North Carolina State Archives.
  • 1650s:  The first permanent settlements were made in the Albemarle Sound area by colonists from Virginia.
  • 1706–1725:  French Huguenot, German, and Swiss colonists founded towns near the coast.
  • 1711-1713: (September 23,) Tuscarora Indian War began with massacre of settlers on Chowan and Roanoke River, North Carolina.  New Bern was abandoned.  White encroachment wihch included the enslaving of Indian children led to the war.
  • 1713: The Tuscarora tribe moved to New York after the war.
  • 1730–1770:  Scottish Highlanders immigrated directly to North Carolina ports. People of Ulster Scottish and German descent arrived from Pennsylvania and Virginia using the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road.
  • 1753:  Moravian colonists arrived.
  • 1760–1768:  Private citizens formed groups to protect law and order. This was known as the Regulation Movement. The participants were known as Regulators.
  • 1768–1771:  The War of the Regulation took place.
  • 1789:  North Carolina became a state and ceded what is now Tennessee to the United States government.
  • 1828-1839: Cherokee removal to Oklahoma known as the "Trail of Tears"
  • 1850:  One-fourth of all native North Carolinians had left the state and were living in other states or territories.
  • 1861:  North Carolina seceded from the Union. It was readmitted in 1868. About 125,000 North Carolina men served in the Confederate armed forces during the Civil War, more than from any other Confederate state.
  • 1862–1907:  Twenty-four counties in southern and western North Carolina suffered major losses of records, mostly due to fire and war.
  • 1898: Over 300,000 men were involved in the Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines.
  • 1917–1918: More than 26 million men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I over 4.7 million American men and women served during the war.
  • 1930's: The Great Depression closed many factories and mills. Many small farms were abandoned, and many families moved to cities.
  • 1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II.
  • 1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.
  • 1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.
  • 1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.

Historical Content

Histories are great sources of genealogical information. Many contain biographical information about individuals who lived in the area, including:

  • Parents' names
  • Maiden names of women
  • Place of birth, death, or marriage
  • Occupation
  • Migration
  • Military service
  • Descendants

Local Histories

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search. Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies. The United States Research "History" page cites nationwide bibliographies of local histories which include histories of North Carolina.

  • Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985.) At various libraries (WorldCat), {{FHL|299450|item|disp=FHL book 973 H23bi
  • Bartram, William. Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Choctaws. Philadelphia and London, 1791-1792. Digital version at Google Books.
    In the 1770s, American naturalist William Bartram kept an interesting account of his travels through North Carolina:

The Draper Manuscript Collection

The Draper Manuscript Collection is a significant regional source that includes records of North Carolina.

  • Draper, Lyman Copeland. Draper Manuscript Collection (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Library, 197–?.) FHL film 889098 (first of 147)
    The collection consists of nearly 500 volumes of manuscripts, papers, and books collected by Lyman Copeland Draper about the history of the trans-Allegheny West, a region including the western areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, all the Ohio River Valley, and part of the upper Mississippi Valley from the 1740s to 1830. The collection is divided into 50 series. Some series are titled by geographic area, some by the names of prominent frontier leaders, and some by topic. The bulk of the collection consists of notes from interviews, questionnaires, and letters gathered during Draper’s extensive travels and research to learn about frontier history. Personal papers are much more rare than government or military records.

The collection includes many items of a genealogical or biographical nature. For an inventory and partial indexes, see:

  • Harper, Josephine L. Guide to the Draper Manuscripts. (Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983.) At various libraries (WorldCat), FHL book 977.583/M1 A3h
    This guide gives series and volume descriptions for some of the Draper manuscripts. There are several indexes at the end of the book, including a name and subject index, an additional personal data index, and a list of references to Illinois.

State Histories Useful to Genealogists

Good genealogists strive to understand the life and times of their ancestors. In this sense, any history is useful. But certain kinds of state, county, and local histories, especially older histories published between 1845 and 1945, often include biographical sketches of prominent individuals. The sketches usually tend toward the laudatory, but may include some genealogical details. If these histories are indexed or alphabetical, check for an ancestor's name. Some examples for the State of North Carolina are:

North Carolina histories are available in all major research centers. A good example is:

  • The History of a Southern State, North Carolina. [1]
  • The History of North Carolina by Hugh Williamson (1812)

United States History

The following are only a few of the many sources that are available:

  • The Almanac of American History, [2][3]This provides brief historical essays and chronological descriptions of thousands of key events in United States history.
  • Dictionary of American History, Revised ed [4] [5]This includes historical sketches on various topics in U.S. history, such as wars, people, laws, and organizations. A snippet view is available at Google books.
  • Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium [6][7][8]This includes a history, some maps, tables, and other historical information.

To find more books and articles about North Carolina 's history use the Internet Google search for phases like "North Carolina history." Family History Library Catalog Surname Search lists many more histories under topics like:


Web Sites

A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:


  1. Lefler, Hugh T., and Albert R. Newsome. The History of a Southern State, North Carolina. Rev. ed. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, c1973. (Family History Library book 975.6 H2Lh, 1973.)
  2. Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. The Almanac of American History. Greenwich, Conn.: Bison Books, 1983. (FHL book 973 H2alm)
  3. Worldcat
  4. Dictionary of American History, Revised ed., 8 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. (FHL book 973 H2ad.)
  5. Worldcat
  6. Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium. Springfield, Mass.: G&C Merriam, 1971. (FHL book 973 H2v)
  7. Limited view at Google Books
  8. Worldcat
  9. Writings on American History By American Historical Association, Library of Congress, United States National Historical Publications Commission, Published by KTO Press, 1921 FHL book 973 H23w
  10. Worldcat