Research Roadblocks: Missing Court Records

Monday, June 29, 2020

Court records are very important to research, especially in the 1700s and 1800s as many things went through the court. Bought land? It was proved in court. Died? Will and estate records were proved in court. These are just a few examples. In North Carolina, only 32 of 100 counties have no missing records. 36 had courthouse fires and 32 more counties have missing records for unknown reasons. That means just a bit over two-thirds of North Carolina counties has missing records. Despite the fires and missing records, it is important to remember there are other types of records that may be able to help you. A courthouse fire does not equate a total loss of records for the county. It is a good idea to examine all records that do exist. Below is a list of other records that may still assist you in your search: 

County Records 

Court records are not the only county records. Other examples could be deeds, marriage records, tax records, wills, and estates. For example, Lenoir County had courthouse fires in 1878 and 1880. There are almost no court records before 1880, but there are deeds back to 1779, marriage records back to 1791, and wills back to 1824. There may be gaps in those records, but you won’t know until you look. 

State Records 

There are many state records that can lend clues. These also include records for the many current and former State Agencies. Some state records include land grants and Revolutionary War records. Here are some online examples of state-level records: Alien Registration and NaturalizationConfederate Pension Applications, and War of 1812 Pay Vouchers, just to name a few. You can find more on our digital collection at There are also district superior court records and the state supreme court records as well.  

Governor’s Papers

Another state-level record, Governors have left papers when they leave office. Many have been published and are available at the Government & Heritage Library. Several of them have been digitized and are located in the Digital Collection:  

  • Historic Governors – Papers for the governors from the 1700s and early 1800s 
  • Modern Governors – Includes some of the papers from James B. Hunt, James G. Martin, Mike Easley, Bev Perdue, and Pat McCrory 

War of 1812 pay voucher, towards the bottom says “Aaron Ballance private in the company of Hyde militia commanded by Capt. D. Gibbs”

Federal Records 

Federal records can help you with research. The National Archives (NARA), located at, have a lot of different records, including military and naturalization, just to name a few.  

Census records are also federal records. They began in 1790 and continue every 10 years. This year is a census year. Learn more about the 2020 census on the GHL blog here: The population schedule of the 1950 census will be released to the public in 2022. There are state censuses, such as the 1784-1787 state census of North Carolina. There is also the mortality schedule of 1850-1880, the industry schedule 1850-1870, the agricultural schedule of 1850-1880, the veteran’s schedule of 1890, the slave schedule of 1850-1860, and the social statistics schedule for 1850-1870.  

Private Records 

Private records and manuscripts include manuscript records at the State Archives of North Carolina. In fact, the State Archives has a finding aid of private records in their collection. This also includes family Bibles. To view digitized Bible records that were held by the State Archives of North Carolina, take a look at the North Carolina Family Records Online database that includes family Bibles among other resources. This database is continually growing. 


Erin Bradford, Reference Librarian