State of South Carolina
Land Records Research

Most Americans owned at least some land prior to the 20th century, making personal land records a resource for genealogists. As a result, nearly every researcher, regardless of whether a experienced professional or weekend hobbyist, has required 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 dependable method of tracking ancestors when no other record could be discovered. Deeds tend to be relatively straightforward to identify and typically offer you a variety of facts.

Many research holes can be filled using court, property, or land records. Luckily, South Carolina has one of the most complete collections of colonial land records of any of the original 13 colonies. All of the land records were kept in Charleston, which survived the Revolutionary War, allowing the records to survive as well.

Bounties and headrights were responsible for creating land distribution in the state. Each "head" that settled in the area was entitled to free land. All males and females under 16 who arrived with the first fleet were given a 100-acre headright, while males over 16 were given a 150-acre headright. Land for servants and slaves could be claimed by the leader of each household as well. Those who arrived anytime before 1756, but after the first fleet, were given 50 acres per household member. Anyone arriving in or after 1756 could claim 100 acres if they were the head-of-household and claim an extra 50 acres for each other person who was living in their household at the time.

Anyone who wanted to take advantage of headrights (grantees) had to get a warrant by petitioning to the Grand Council. The head-of-household had to make that petition in person by listing where the land was located, how many acres he wanted to claim and, of course, his name. Each household could only claim land for its members, but there was no major requirement for claiming that land besides that. Petitions can often be genealogically useful because they contain names and ages of children and spouses. Each petition was dated and that date is known as the pursuant, warrant, or precept date.

The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has the petitions for land on file. Some are collected in the 27 volumes of Records of His Majesty's Council, which covers all of colonial times. Others can be found in the two-volume collection called Records of the Grand Council (1671-92). Although none of those 29 volumes is indexed, they are all organized chronologically, which means that the date must be known in order to find the appropriate record.

Once the warrant was in hand, the grantee had to have the land surveyed. The surveyor would have to draw a map (plat) of the land, indicating where the boundaries of the land were. Plats contain a lot of useful genealogical information, including the recording date, precept date, the location of the land, and a description of the land. The Combined Alphabetical Index holds an index of recorded plats.

Completed plats were to be brought back to the surveyor general's office. There, they were checked to ensure that nobody else was claiming the same piece of land already. If there were no other claims to the land, grant papers were drawn up and sent to the governor, who would stamp his official seal and sign the documents. South Carolina land plat covering 1731 to 1861 are on file with the FHL and the years of 1688 to 1872 have also been indexed. They are on 28 reels of microfilm and were obtained in 1955 from the Secretary of State's Office's original records.

Land owners who obtained grants then had to pay quitrent payments on the land. The first was to be made within 10 years on bounty land or 2 years on headright land. The quitrent originated as an English land tax that was meant to cover "the land obligations due the manor," which might include haying or plowing the lord's land. Each of those costs were computed and a payment was made once per year, and then the obligations were "quit" until the following year. Many land grants have been placed on microfilm from the original records. There are some indexed volumes, as well as a partial general index. All of that information for 1784 to 1882 is available through the FHL.

South Carolina memorial records are also important land records for genealogists. They were created between 1731 and 1775. Anyone who obtained land during that time was required to create a memorial, which listed land boundaries, names of adjacent landowners, amount of land, and the location of the land. Memorials could also show a title chain, which often started with the original landowner. The South Carolina Department of Archives and History holds original memorials and the Combined Alphabetical Index holds an index of those memorials.

In 1772, a North Carolina and South Carolina border survey took place for the first time. However, it wasn't until 1815 that the border was officially agreed upon. At that time, some land that was initially thought to be in North Carolina wound up being considered part of South Carolina. That land was initially located in Tryon County and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Therefore the areas that are now known as York, Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Greenville County may have records on file in both states.

South Carolina deeds are known as conveyances, or sometimes as mesne conveyances. The Register of Mesne Conveyance's office was given each deed that was recorded. These days, those records can be found in the office of the Clerk of the Court for each county. Most of the records that predate 1865 have also been placed on microfilm and can be obtained through the FHL or the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

  • See Also Research In Land Records
  • BLM Land Records (glorecords.blm.gov)
  • Colonial Plats (onlinearchives.sc.gov)
  • Warrants for Land in South Carolina, 1692-1711  (search.ancestry.com)
  • Warrants for Land in South Carolina, 1680-1692  (search.ancestry.com)
  • Warrants for Land in South Carolina, 1672-1679  (search.ancestry.com)
  • North Carolina Land Grants in South Carolina  (search.ancestry.com)
  • See also Alexander S. Salley Jr., and R. N. Olsberg, eds., Warrants for Land in South Carolina, 1672–1721 (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1977)
  • Alexander S. Salley, Jr., Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina, 1671–1675 (Columbia, S.C.: Historical Commission of South Carolina, 1944).
  • Esker, Katie-Prince Ward. South Carolina Memorials, 1731–1776: Abstracts of Selected Land Records from a Collection in the Department of Archives and History. 2 vols. New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1973–77.
  • Jackson, Ronald Vern, Gary Ronald Teeples, and David Schaefermeyer, eds., Index to South Carolina Land Grants, 1784–1800. Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1977.
  • Langley, Clara A. South Carolina Deed Abstracts, 1719–1772. 4 vols. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1983–84.
  • Lucas, Silas E., Jr., An Index to Deed of the Province and State of South Carolina, 1719–1785, and Charleston District, 1785– 1800. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1977.

  • See Brent Howard Holcomb, comp., North Carolina Land Grants in South Carolina (Greenville, S.C.: A Press, 1980).
  • South Carolina Land Record Books (amazon.com)
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