North Carolina County records can vary extensively from county to county in either quality as well as quantity. Some have already been very carefully conserved while some have been significantly misused and neglected. Some North Carolina records have purely vanished. For genealogists carrying out research in North Carolina you will find no effective replace to have an on-site search of county court house records. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia
North Carolina county history stretches over 340 years, beginning in 1668 with the creation of Albemarle County and ending with the 1911 creation of Avery and Hoke counties. Five counties have since been divided or abolished altogether, the last being Dobbs County in 1791.
North Carolina Counties
In 1664 there were 3 counties created by the Lords Proprietor in Carolina. They were Clarendon, Craven, and Albemarle counties. In 1667 Clarendon County was dissolved. Its population never grew beyond 800 people. Craven County stayed in existence, but was located in what is now South Carolina. Around 1668 Albemarle County was divided into the precincts of Carteret, Berkeley, and Shaftesbury. Those precincts were divided and renamed, in 1681, to Currituck, Chowan, Perquimans, and Pasquotank. By 1689 those precincts were, for all intents and purposes, acting as if they were counties. Bath County was created in 1696. In 1705 it was divided into 3 precincts, called Pamptecough, Wickham, and Archedale. In 1739 all existing precincts were declared counties by North Carolina’s Provincial Government. At that time both Bath and Albermarle counties were dissolved.
The FHL, North Carolina State Archives and Allen County Public Library all have centralized collections of county records available. Other information, such as will and deed books, may be found at the county seats.
Many county clerks recorded documents and records from their parent counties when the new counties were formed. Sometimes all records were simply transferred. So, some counties may have records on file that are older than the counties themselves. The county seat is home to the register of deeds, which keeps vital records for the county. Probate records cab be found in the superior court clerk’s office. Other court records may also be available there, but many have been transferred to the North Carolina State Archives. Probate records include estate records and wills. Land records may include plats, grants, deeds, and other documents. Court records may consist of bastardy bonds, dockets, constables’ bonds, apprentice bonds, account books, orders, and court minutes. Not all records are still extant. Some have been destroyed in fires and other circumstances over the years.
See also a list of links to county and county seat government run websites.
|County||Date Formed||Parent County||County Seat|
|Alexander||1847||Caldwell, Iredell and Wilkes Counties||Taylorsville|
|Avery||1911||Caldwell, Mitchell and Watauga Counties||Newland|
|Bladen||1734||New Hanover County||Elizabethtown|
|Brunswick||1764||Bladen and New Hanover Counties||Bolivia|
|Buncombe||1791||Burke and Rutherford Counties||Asheville|
|Caldwell||1841||Burke and Wilkes Counties||Lenoir|
|Cleveland||1841||Lincoln and Rutherford Counties||Shelby|
|Columbus||1808||Bladen and Brunswick Counties||Whiteville|
|Craven||1705||Bath County||New Bern|
|Dare||1870||Currituck, Hyde and Tyrrell Counties||Manteo|
|Duplin||1750||New Hanover County||Kenansville|
|Durham||1881||Orange and Wake Counties||Durham|
|Gates||1778||Chowan, Hertford and Perquimans Counties||Gatesville|
|Greene||1799||Dobbs (Glasgow) County||Snow Hill|
|Guilford||1771||Orange and Rowan County||Greensboro|
|Hertford||1759||Bertie, Chowan and Northampton Counties||Winton|
|Hoke||1911||Cumberland and Robeson Counties||Raeford|
|Hyde||1712||Original county||Swan Quarter|
|Jackson||1851||Haywood and Macon Counties||Sylva|
|Lee||1907||Chatham and Moore Counties||Sanford|
|Lenoir||1791||Dobbs (Glasgow) County||Kinston|
|Macon||1842||Burke and Rutherford Counties||Marion|
|Martin||1774||Buncombe and Yancey Counties||Franklin|
|McDowell||1842||Halifax and Tyrrell Counties||Williamston|
|Mitchell||1861||Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Watauga and Yancey Counties||Bakersville|
|New Hanover||1729||Craven County||Wilmington|
|Onslow||1734||New Hanover County||Jacksonville|
|Orange||1752||Bladen, Granville and Johnston Counties||Hillsborough|
|Pamlico||1872||Beaufort and Craven Counties||Bayboro|
|Pasquotank||1668||Albemarle County||Elizabeth City|
|Pender||1875||New Hanover County||Burgaw|
|Polk||1855||Henderson and Rutherford Counties||Columbus|
|Swain||1871||Jackson and Macon Counties||Bryson City|
|Transylvania||1861||Henderson and Jackson Counties||Brevard|
|Tyrrell||1729||Chowan, Currituck and Pasquotank Counties||Columbia|
|Union||1842||Anson and Mecklenburg Counties||Monroe|
|Vance||1881||Franklin, Granville and Warren Counties||Henderson|
|Wake||1771||Cumberland, Johnston and Orange Counties||Raleigh|
|Watauga||1849||Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes and Yancey Counties||Boone|
|Wayne||1779||Dobbs (Glasgow) County||Goldsboro|
|Wilson||1855||Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash and Wayne Counties||Wilson|
|Yancey||1833||Buncombe and Burke Counties||Burnsville|
North Carolina Extinct Counties
North Carolina seems to have counties that no longer are in existence. They were recognized by the state, provincial, or territorial government. Most of these counties were established and disbanded during the 19th century; county boundaries have modified little since 1900 in the great number of states. These counties should be researched when performing genealogy and family history research. Pay close attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was eliminated or merged with a different county.
- Albemarle County: (Formed in 1664, divided into Carteret, Berkeley, and Shaftesbury precincts about 1668 and abolished in 1739 when precincts were declared counties.. Miscellaneous records from 1678-1737)
- Bath County: Formed in 1696, divided into Archedale, Pamptecough, and Wickham precincts about 1705. Pampticough Precinct was renamed Beaufort Precinct in 1712, Wickham Precinct became Hyde Precinct in 1712, and Archdale Precinct became Craven Precinct about 1712. In 1739 the three precincts were abolished and were declared counties.
- Bute County: (Formed in 1764, abolished in 1779. Records transferred to Warren and Franklin Counties)
- Clarendon County: (Formed as an original County 1664 and abolished in 1667)
- Dobbs County: (Established in 1758 from Johnston County, abolished in 1791. Divided into Glasgow and Lenoir Counties)
- Glasgow County: (Formed in 1791 from Dobbs County, renamed Greene in 1799)
- Tennessee County: (Formed in 1788 from Davidson County Tennessee County, ceded to the United States in 1790 as part of the Southwest Territory (later Tennessee)
- Tryon County: (Formed in 1768 from Mecklenburg County, Divided into Lincoln and Rutherford Counties in 1779. Records transferred to Lincoln County)
- Washington District: Ceded to the United States in 1790 as part of the Southwest Territory (later Tennessee)
North Carolina Counties with Burned Courthouses
The harm to North Carolina courthouses tremendously has a impact on genealogists in each and every way. Not only are these types of historic buildings torn from each of our lifetimes, so are the records they stored: marriage, wills, probate, land records, among others. Once destroyed they’re destroyed permanently. Even though they happen to have been put on mircofilm, computers and film burn as well. The most heartbreaking side of this is the reason that almost all of our courthouses are destroyed as a result of arsonist. However, not all records were lost. A number of North Carolina counties have endured a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.
The first item is the county name, followed by the date of courthouse destruction, () describes what caused the destruction and if records were destroyed.
- Alleghany County Courthouse – 1932 (fire, record loss)
- Alexander County Courthouse – 1865 (civil war, record loss), 1967 (fire)
- Craven County Courthouse – 1712 (records destroyed by Indians)
- Anson County Courthouse – 1868 (fire)
- Ashe County Courthouse – 1865 (fire, records fragmented)
- Bladen County Courthouse – 1770 (fire), 1800 (fire), 1893 (fire)
- Brunswick County Courthouse – 1865 (civil war, record loss), 1957 (clerk’s office fire)
- Buncombe County Courthouse – 1830 (fire), 1865 (fire)
- Burke County Courthouse – 1865 (civil war, record loss)
- Cabarrus County Courthouse – 1876 (fire)
- Cherokee County Courthouse – 1865 (fire), 1895 (fire), 1926 (fire)
- Chowan County Courthouse – 1848 (records destroyed by acting clerk)
- Clay County Courthouse – 1870 (fire, records destroyed)
- Craven County Courthouse – 1712 (records destroyed by Indians)
- Currituck County Courthouse – 1842 (fire)
- Davidson County Courthouse – 1866 (fire)
- Gaston County Courthouse – 1874 (fire)
- Greene County Courthouse – 1876 (fire)
- Guilford County Courthouse – 1781 (fire), 1872 (fire)
- Harnett County Courthouse – 1892 (fire), 1894 (fire)
- Haywood County Courthouse – 1932 (records destroyed in move to new courthouse)
- Hertford County Courthouse – 1830 (fire), 1822 (fire)
- Hyde County Courthouse – 1789 (fire), 1827 (fire)
- Iredell County Courthouse – 1854 (fire)
- Jackson County Courthouse – 1913 (records lost when county seat moved)
- Jones County Courthouse – 1862 (fire) ‘Courthouse was burned during Civil War battle, many court records destroyed.
- Lenoir County Courthouse – 1878 (fire), 1880 (fire) Most court records were destroyed
- Lincoln County Courthouse – 1797 (records may have been destroyed by fire in private home)
- Martin County Courthouse – 1862 (fire) ‘Courthouse fire destroyed many court records.
- Mitchell County Courthouse – 1907 (some records destroyed in move to new courthouse)
- Montgomery County Courthouse – 1835 (fire), 1840 (fire), 1886 (may have suffered record loss from courthouse fire. The clerk said that he saved the records but that they were “in a state of great confusion.”)
- Moore County Courthouse – 1889 (fire) Courthouse fire destroyed most of the land records and many court records
- New Hanover County Courthouse – 1789, 1819 & 1840 (all 3 courthouse fires may have destroyed some records)
- Onslow County Courthouse – 1752 & 1755 (records destroyed by storm)
- Orange County Courthouse – 1781 (records destroyed when buried in woods to avoid capture or destruction by Cornwallis)
- Pitt County Courthouse – 1857 (fire) Courthouse fire destroyed most of the court records.
- Rowan County Courthouse – 1865 (civil war, record loss) records were destroyed by Federal troops
- Rutherford County Courthouse – 1907 (fire)
- Sampson County Courthouse – 1921 (clerk’s office fire) Some early court records are missing because of Federal sympathizers in 1865; Clerk’s office fire in 1921. Early deed books of Duplin County prior to 1784
- Swain County Courthouse – 1879 Courthouse fire destroyed many records and on January 7, 1908 the Courthouse was burned by rioters. No records were saved
- Wake County Courthouse – Several deed books were destroyed in register’s office fire in 1832.
- Warren County Courthouse – 1935 (Some early County records may have been destroyed) County Court Records from abt 1814 -1823 are missing There is a loss of records for around the 1935 time period. Deed Books 15 and 16, 1799-1803, are missing from the court house and from the NC Archives.
- Washington County Courthouse – County records destroyed by bombardment in Civil War in 1862. Fires have destroyed most of the court records and many of the land records in 1869 and 1881.
- Watauga County Courthouse – Courthouse fire in 1873 destroyed all of the land records and most of the court records.
- Wayne County Courthouse – 1781 (records may have been destroyed in courthouse fire)