Colonial Court Records in the Digital Collection

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Government and Heritage Library has partnered with the State Archives of North Carolina to create a new digital collection on colonial court records: The collection covers the period of time from 1600 until 1775. Records that are currently in the collection date 1660-1762. There are a lot of subjects included in this collection - wills, estate records, deeds, bills of sale, land grants and headright grants, and even Blackbeard. During colonial times through the late 1800s, almost everything was proved in the courts, such as deeds, wills, estates, etc. That is why there are so many subjects included that don’t seem to be related to court records as we know them today.  

There are several ways to search this collection: 

  • From the main page, you can click on popular subjects to get started 
  • From the main page, you can click on “Browse all items in this collection” 

right: image of original records, left: search bar with popular topics Methods to Search  

By default, browse is set for alphabetical browsing by surname.  When you enter the collection by browsing, there are several other options. First, on the left hand side are 3 sections. I’ll talk about the first section in a moment.  

  • The second section lists all the different subjects you can search by. For example, if you are looking for wills, you can see there are currently seven wills on the left column, as it says “Wills (7).” If you click on “Wills,” the results are displayed in alphabetical order by surname. 
  • Another option is to browse by date. The third section is a series of years. Years can be clicked and then you will see all records for that year or that span of years. If you click “1696,” you will find the will of Thomas Hassold.  
  • The last option is to search for a name. This can be a little tricky, so it is saved for last.  

Using the Search Bar  

If you enter a name in the search bar, it will search the whole digital collection by default. The problem with this is that much will not be relevant to what you are searching for. For example, if you enter the name John Smith for your ancestor John Smith who lived in Craven County in the 1700s, some results may include the 2015 Candidate Campaign Finance Manual or the 1995 Directory of State and County Officials. There is a way you can limit which collections you search.  

First, click “Advanced Search” under the search bar. It starts off with a listing of all the collections and all collections are checked. Click on the box that says “Select all Collections” and then click the button “Show All” to see a full list of collections. You can go through the list and check any relevant collections. When you are done, click the “Save” button and move down to the next section. This section is the search terms. You can choose what you are searching - title, creator, date, etc. Be aware that the date is the date of publication. There may be collections with information but were published much later than the event. You can add more rows of search terms. In the case of John Smith, we are also looking in Craven County, so you could use a search term for the subject of Craven County. This can help narrow down your search results. If you do choose to use a date, it may limit the results too much. You can try to take off the date to see if that helps with search results. 

One great thing about this collection is all results are scanned images of the original documents, something you won’t find in other places unless you go to the State Archives of North Carolina to do research in person. Besides court records, there are many other digital collections, including collections for the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, WWI, and WWII. There are also tax lists and so much more! 


Erin Bradford, Reference Librarian