North Carolina FAQ

Helpful answers to questions that often occur when
 researching North Carolina history and genealogy.

1. How do I go about finding an early NC marriage license?
2. What are DOWER rights and what rights did a widow have in regard to inheritance?
3. What is a REVOKED WILL and how does one go about finding one?
4. What is a CAVEAT?
5. Where is or what is a Palatine?
6. Could you provide a brief history of North Carolina's land records?
7. How did the first settlers of the Carolinas obtain their land?
8. What kind of money was used in NC in colonial times?
9. What is the difference between a land grant, a patent and a warrant?
10. Where was the Black River Settlement about 1770?
11.  How do I locate my family’s coat of arms?


How do I go about finding an early NC marriage license?


There are very few public records for North Carolina marriages before 1868 because most early marriages were performed after the banns were read three times in a church.

Very few NC marriages of that period were performed by license. In the instances where there was a license, a marriage bond was executed by the groom in the bride's county.

Marriage bonds were used from 1741 to 1868 in NC. The NC Archives has a bride and groom index to the bonds which have survived. Even if a bond exists, there is very little personal information on the bond, no parents' names etc.

You can write to the NC Archives and ask that they search the marriage bond index.

They will answer one specific question per written query. If you live outside of North Carolina, there is a search fee of $8.00 which must accompany the query, along with a legal-sized, stamped, self-addressed envelope. The search fee does not include the cost of photocopies, which are 25c per page. Do not send extra money for photocopying...they will bill you for copies.

Make your cheque/money order out to "North Carolina Archives" and post it to:


North Carolina State Archives
109 East Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27601

If you are a North Carolina resident, there is no search fee, but you will still need to pay for photocopying.

For marriages after 1868, you will need to contact the Register of Deeds in the county where the marriage was performed. Your local public library should be able to give you the addresses.

Ref:Grace-Ellen McCrann - The State Library of North Carolina]
(see NOTE, below)



What are DOWER rights and what rights did a widow have in regard to inheritance?


Laws governing a widow's share of real estate (called her dower) evolved as follows: 1663-1783: Throughout marriage a wife had a right to one-third of her husband's real estate. She could not sell it, but he could not sell property without her consent. This was called dower by common law.

1784-1868: A wife's right to one-third of her husband's land became effective only at his death, meaning that during marriage his control was absolute. He could sell any and all of the property. His control was called his "curtesy."

1869: Dower by common law was reinstated. In 1960, dower was abolished along with the husband's curtesy.

Generally, a widow's dower is protected from the husband's creditors. She also is entitled to the dwelling house and outbuildings. When a widow enters her petition for dower it appears on the minute docket as "Jane Doe vs. the heirs of [etc.]" This is a form of law and normally is not an adversarial proceeding.

Though dower is allotted to the widow, she has only lifetime use of it. She never has fee simple ownership if there are bodily heirs surviving the husband. If a widow remarries, she still is entitled to the dower for her lifetime. Upon her death, the land goes to heirs of her first marriage. A sale can be transacted if her husband's heirs go on the deed with her. The dower can be transferred or swapped with one of the heirs, if the others are agreeable and execute quit claim deeds. Heirs, however, cannot not sell the dower out from under the widow. She has to consent to such a sale. Tip: If you are unsure whether a deed was executed by a man and his wife or by a namesake son and the widow, note whose name comes first. A wife's name does not precede that of her husband in a legal instrument.

[Ref: Kathy Gunter Sullivan, CG - Charlotte, NC
from: "Tips for Estates Papers Research"]


What is a REVOKED WILL and how does one go about finding one?


People can make as many wills as they like and each one supercedes/revokes the prior one. A will is only "filed" with the court after a person dies. The will submitted for probate is the last will made by the person before death.

Copies of prior wills might/might not be kept,but would not be kept by the court because the court never got the old wills to begin with.

Copies might/might not be kept by the person who made the prior will. Once a new will is written, signed and properly witnessed, the old will ceases to have any legal validity, so it is very possible that the person making the will destroyed/threw away the old one.

Copies of prior wills might/might not be kept by the lawyer who drew up the prior wills. Lawyers are more likely to keep copies of anything they do for a client, but their office files would have had to have been preserved somewhere if they are no longer in practice. If the firm is still in business you could ask if they have material dating back that far.

If the person did not consult a lawyer, you would have to search his/her effects, if they exist, to see if any old wills were included in his/her papers.

The chances of your finding copies of superceded wills are not high.

[Ref:Grace-Ellen McCrann - The State Library of North Carolina]
(see NOTE, below)


What is a CAVEAT?


Caveats were petitions to the Governor and King's Council [called the Court of Claims when they met to discuss land matters]. These petitions were made to try to stop a grant from issuing. When the Council agreed with the petition, a trial would be ordered on the land as opposed to a trial in the county court house. When a decision was reached, the winner would need to present a copy of the verdict to the Council so they would issue a warrant for survey and, later, a grant could issue. The "drawback" to the caveats is that they lack all the details of the case. The surviving records usually mention the plaintiff, defendant, and a brief description of the land. It is often difficult to locate county court records to determine the winner in each case, or even if a trial was held at all. A method to determine who won may be to consult the colonial grant and try to find if either party received a grant for all or part of the disputed land. As with all land grants, the grantee had to pay the surveyors fees and col ony's fees. Some grants may not have issued because these fees weren't paid even though a trial was held. On some occasions, the plaintiff may have already owned the disputed land; these grants are dated prior to the caveat and may be for more or less land than the amount in the caveat.

[Ref:Colonial Petitions for Land Resurveys, Some Land Warrants-1753-1774,
Caveats for Land Warrants-1767-1773, in North Carolina
by Dr. A.B. Pruitt]


Where is or what is a Palatine?


Note: The Palatine is an area in the Rhine River Valley of Germany, near the French border--the inhabitants are called Palatines.

"While the British Colonies were turning their wartime patriotism against the French in their midst, another large group of Continental immigrants made their appearance.

The history of the Palatines had not been unlike that of the Huguenots. When the land of these German Protestants (the Palatines) was ravaged by the French (Catholic) armies of Louis XIV, many of the refugees fled (first to Holland) to England, which at that time stood forth as a protector of Protestants.

Although Queen Anne (of England) welcomed them politely (in the beginning giving each family a small annual living allowance), their presence in London proved a problem for which the ministers could find no local solution. But the ministers recalled the complaints from the Governor of (the Colony of) New York that the lands of this province (of the English Crown) were being deserted by settlers, and that it's resources were lying undeveloped.

In the American Colonies, the German Palatine refugees would at least be out of the way, so in 1708 through 1710, the British naval vessels carried several thousand Palatines to New York, (where they) were placed in camps along the Hudson River, and were ordered to cut down trees, and to prepare stores (lumber and pitch) for the Queens Navy.

The misfortunes and wanderings of these pioneers constitute a heroic chapter which characterizes the beginnings of the (American) National migration. Their trail leads from the Hudson River to the Mohawk River, and from the Mohawk River over the hills and down the Susquehanna River to the Pennsylvania frontier. At each pause in this journey (which lasted many years), a substantial number of these wanders remained to become settlers, and to serve as a nucleus to which future newcomers would be attached."

[Excerpted from The Atlantic Migration (1607-1860),
by Marcus Lee Hanson, pages 46-47, Chapter II,
Peopling The Colonies
(Harper Torchbooks)

[courtesy of Roland Miracle]


Could you provide a brief history of North Carolina's land records?


The North Carolina land records began before the 1700's. English adventurers attempted to colonize this area from 1584-1663 unsuccessfully. In the mid 17th century Virginians eyed the vacant land to the south.

During the time between 1650 and the early 1660's thirty plus families migrated to the Albemarle Sound area. A few of the families obtained deeds from the native Indians and the others had informal agreements.

In 1663 eight supporters of Charles II (who had helped him regain the throne) were granted lands between 31 degree and 36 degree latitude bounded by the Great Ocean on the East and the South Sea (Pacific) on the West. They became the Lord Proprietors of Carolina.

In 1665 Charles added to land of the eight - the area south of 36 degree 30' latitude ( the present North Carolina - Virginia border to a line across the present Cape Canaveral, FL, again ocean to ocean.

Under the charter of Virginia they had the right to grant lands. The Lords, under the Great Deed of 1668, granted land to settlers of North Carolina. In 1669 the first of the land patents and deeds was recorded. As the Lords did not realize a great financial gains that had expected, in 1729 seven of the original shares were sold to George II. Thus North Carolina became a crown colony.

John Carteret, Baron Carteret of Hawnes, who had inherited his share refused to sell. He became the second Earl Granville upon his mother's death. Thus his one eighth share became the Granville District. This was a strip of land sixty miles deep from the Virginia on the north, the Atlantic on the East and "as Farr Southerlly as a Cedar Stake Sett upon the Sea Side in the Latitude of thirty-five degrees and thirty-four minutes at North Latitude." - from sea to sea.

The Granville line was surveyed from the Atlantic to a point near Bath, Beaufort County in 1744. Two years later the line was extended to Rocky River though it never went as far as the mountains. Land agents represented Earl Granville and granted lands and collected rents. Names of these agents are Edward MOSELEY, James INNES, Thomas CHILD, Francis CORBIN, Joshus BODLEY, Benjamin WHEATLEY and others. The colonists from Edgecombe and Granville counties in 1759 tired of the abusive agents and held CORBIN c aptive in Enfield for a while. When the American Revolution began in 1776 the lands were confiscated.

In 1777 rules were adopted to set up land offices in every county. It was permissible to take 640 acres of vacant, ungranted land plus 100 for his wife and each minor child. The early patents were obtained under a system known as "headright". The person was given so much land per head and agreed to settle on it and clear and plant a given number of acres in a specific allotted time.

"Land Entry" - a rough description was prepared. The Entry Taker then entered the information into a the "land Entry Book". The next step was the issuance of a "Land Warrant". This was an order authorizing the County Surveyor to set aside this land.

"Plat of Survey" - The surveyor took this warrant to the land and surveyed it and drew a plat.

"The Patent" - The plat of survey was sent to the Secretary of State who wrote out the Patent conveying the land and when the fees were paid he recorded it.

Source: North Carolina Research, edited by Helen Leary and Maurice Stirewalt



How did the first settlers of the Carolinas obtain their land?


The Province of Carolina was "given" by King Charles to eight men, called the Lords Proprieters, in the Carolina Charter of 1663. "Carolina" is a form of Carol, the Latin form of Carolus, or Charles. These eight men formed a Proprietary Government, issuing land grants to their friends, and also sent agents to the Province to "sell" land to settlers.

Ultimately, the Province was divided into two colonies, some Proprieters lost or surrendered their rights back to the crown or to the other Proprieters, and individual Proprieters assumed responsibility for different sections of the two states.

Northeastern North Carolina became the domain of the Earl of Granville. He sent out land agents who sold or leased land to settlers in paymentof an initial fee and an annual quitrent. (The quitrent is really more of a tax than a rent--owners of land in England were accustomed to the payment of an annual quitrent to the Crown in order to keep the land they already owned.)

These arrangements were formalized by written records, and are referred to as Lord Granville Grants. Since he basically owned all of the land, the only way of legally establishing ownership was to purchase a grant from his agents. At the time of the revolution (or perhaps before), the remaining ungranted land became the domain of the Colony and/or the State, and subsequent claims for ownerless land were made through those political bodies.

[Jim Hecht]


One of my ancestors, Charles Wilkinson, used "20 pounds Virginia money" to buy land in Johnston Co NC in 1763. What other currency was used in NC in this period? Charles and his father Joshua are first mentioned in Johnston Co records in 1761 in Joshua's will. Does the above indicate they were likely to have previously been in Virginia or was "Virginia money" commonly used in that area of NC at that time?


Each state had its own value to currency for what the dollar was worth and what the pound was worth. The coin used as the first American dollar at that time was the Spanish 8-reale piece minted in Mexico City. It was used as the world standard trade coin. England had the pound. It 1822 the 8-reale coin was valued as 5 pounds in England while it had different values in each state: the dollar was valued as 6 shillings in the New England States and VA; 7 shillings 6 pence in PA, NJ, DE, and MD; 8 shillings in NY and NC and 4 shillings 8 pence in GA and SC.

[Horace B. Peele]


What was the difference between a land grant, a patent and a warrant and how did one obtain them? What is the definition of a plat?


In Colonial North Carolina, there were two types of grants (land couldn't be gotten by squatting on it).

a. Headright Grant: Given for importing people into the colony. It was usually 100 acres per adult male and varying amounts of females, children and slaves. The Head-right system was dealt a severe blow from which it never re-covered when Lord Granville began selling land outright. It was allowed to lapse 1752-1754. From then on, land was granted on the basis of a person's ability to settle on, cultivate and improve the land (by the number of white persons and slaves). Surveyor's and office fees had to be paid and an annual quit rent paid to the Crown.

b. Purchase Grant: Outright purchasing of vacant land. This was seldom done by the Crown. -- There were four basic steps in obtaining a grant or patent (the document conveying title).

1. Entry: Notify the secretary of the colony of ones wishes to have a particular piece of vacant land. At a Court of Claims (meetings of the Governor and his council to consider land matters), the secretary read out the petition for entry.

2. Warrant: If the Court of Claims agreed to the entry, the person then petitioned through the same process for a warrant to have the land surveyed. A map of the survey, called a plat (two copies), were returned to the secretary by the surveyor.

3. Patent: the secretary informed the Court of Claims that the individual now was petitioning for a patent.

4. If the Court of Claims agreed, and if all fees had been paid, the patent was issued out of the secretary's office where it was recorded and then surrendered to the new landowner.

It was also recorded in the Crown Auditor's office for the purpose of collecting annual quit rent on the property from the new owner.

[Margaret Hofmann]


Where was the Black River Settlement about 1770?


This is probably the community in Sampson County now known as Ivanhoe, renamed in the 1880s. It appears as Black River community in earlier maps. Black River Presbyterian Church was established in this area in 1740.

[source: William S. Powell's North Carolina Gazetteer]


How do I locate my family’s coat of arms?


There is no place in America to officially "register" arms. Arms are only registered by the party/power which grants them and we do not grant arms in the United States.

In the United Kingdom for example while the Monarch is formally "the Fount of all Honours" and arms are granted in his/her name, the actual granting of arms is done either by the Court of the Lord Lyon in Scotland (for Scottish arms) or the College of Arms in London (which has responsibility for the rest of the UK).

Please also know that there is no such thing as a "family" coat of arms. Arms are granted to individuals (and occasionally in modern times to societies/businesses under the assumption that societies/businesses are "legal persons" under the law).

Once arms are granted to an individual even other members of the family are not permitted to use those arms as granted. If a spouse/child later applies for arms, the second set of arms will often be based on the original design, but always with some difference; this is called differencing.

None of the crested merchandise available through commercial vendors, for example, the "Fraser Family Coat of Arms" or the "MacNeill Family Coat of Arms," is valid. It's just an attempt to sell merchandise.

All those particular sets of arms means is that at some time or another some person by the name of Fraser or MacNeill was granted those arms, not that they were granted to the family.

In countries where arms are granted, arms are considered personal property under the law and people can be (and are) taken to court for improper use of someone else's arms.

All that being said, there are several books which show individual's arms. The most commonly known name for UK arms is Burke's Peerage which has several different volumes. Many large libraries will have a copy of the Burke's books and we have most, if not all, of them (though not all the editions) here in our genealogical department if you would like to come and see them.

[source: Grace-Ellen McCrann, MLS, The State Library of North Carolina, 19 March 1997]
Grace-Ellen McCrann is no longer with the State Library of North Carolina.
She may be reached at the following address:

Prof. Grace-Ellen McCrann, MLS, Chief, Reference & Government Documents,
Cohen Library, Room 2/305, The City College of New York
138th Street at Convent Avenue
New York, New York 10031



If you have any questions of NC historical or genealogical interest,
please post them to me at:

Derick S. Hartshorn - 1998-present
Last Modified: