Search For Your Ancestors in Historical Documents




State of North Carolina
Land Records Research

Most Americans possessed at least some land just before the twentieth century, generating personal land records a useful resource for genealogists. Therefore, just about every researcher, whether a seasoned professional or weekend hobbyist, has needed land records to prove the existence, association, or movement of an individual or ancestral family. Deeds, legal records for transferring land or property from one individual to another, are the most used of the land records, and can provide a reputable method of tracing ancestors when no additional record could be discovered. Deeds tend to be fairly straightforward to uncover and frequently make available a abundance of information.

In the 1700s thousands of Maryland and Virginia settlers came to North Carolina because of land availability. There were several instances of Virginia giving North Carolina land to its residents before North Carolina's northern border was fully surveyed by a resident of Westover named Colonel William Byrd.

The North Carolina land patent process was fairly simple. Applicants simply needed to file a land entry (application) with the land office in their area. At that point, the land office would create a warrant for the land. From 1669 to 1776 the Secretary of State was also a land officer, as were Earl Granville's agents from 1748 to 1776. From 1778 to the present the county entry taker has also been a land officer.

Once a warrant was drawn up, it was given to a surveyor. The surveyor then took a survey of the land, sketching a map (plat) of the land in question. The land office then kept the plat on file. Although, that duty was taken over by each county's register of deeds in 1777. After that the land patent was created. The North Carolina State Archives holds indexes to land grants and related documents. Inquiries should include the county where the grant was issued, as well as the grantee's full name. The North Carolina State Archives can also provide information on how to inquire about land grant information.

The North Carolina State Archives' MARS database lists Granville grants and papers that can be useful to researchers. The card catalog in its Search Room also lists information on deeds and grants. A collection of microfilm consisting of 522 reels of deed and grant information can be found at the FHL as well.

North Carolina's proprietary period lasted from 1663 to 1729. During that time land grants were distributed by the Lords Proprietor via headrights. Around 1697 North Carolina began giving a standard headright of 50 acres per person. Prior to that time 100 acres was given to each family's head of household. However, when terms expired women servants were only given 6 acres. Those who had obtained free land with their headrights or those who had no headrights could buy tracts of up to 640 acres from the governor. In order to keep North Carolina populated a rule was put in place that each person claiming headrights had to live in North Carolina for at least 2 years before selling their land. The FHL and the North Carolina State Archives hold land patent records from proprietary times.

North Carolina became a royal colony in 1729, when 7 out of 8 of the original proprietary shares were purchased by King George II. The only one who did not sell his share was the second Earl of Granville, John Carteret.

The headright system was kept in place by the Crown. However, in 1741 it was modified so that heads of each household again gained 100 acres of land. In 1735 the first Crown land office opened. Then, in 1741, Great Britain bought the province outright.

The upper portion of what is now North Carolina was once known as the Granville District. In 1744 a surveyor working for John Cataret did a partial survey of the area. John Cataret was the second Earl Granville. He owned all of the land that was not settled in the area. However, he had no governing powers. He never even visited the region. However, he did send agents to the area to distribute land, collect rent, and perform other tasks on his behalf. In 1748 the Granville land office was opened for that purpose.

When the Revolutionary War ended, land that was previously owned by Earl Granville or Great Britain was distributed by North Carolina itself. Records of those transactions can be found in many different genealogical societies and collections across the state.

As much as 640 acres could be bought by any male settlers. Each one could also buy 100 more acres if he was married and an additional 100 acres for every under-age child that he had. The cost was two pounds and ten shillings for every 100-acre allotment. Any extra land bought beyond those amounts had to be purchased at a price of 5 pounds for each 100-acre allotment. The FHL and the North Carolina State Archive have most of those land grant records available on microfilm. Records of grants made to Revolutionary War veterans in Tennessee are also included.

Whenever an individual sold their land to another individual, county deed books were usually used to record those events. Partial indexes to most of the deed books exist. However, it is easier for researchers to start by searching the general grantor and grantee indexes. The "metes and bounds" system was used to survey North Carolina lands. The county register of deeds can supply copies of deeds and related records. The FHL and the North Carolina State Archives also have copies of many of those deeds and records available on microfilm. Genealogical societies and libraries across the state may also have copies of deeds on file.

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