Do you have South Carolina ancestors? Your need to know information for beginning your genealogy research in South Carolina.

How To Research Your South Carolina Ancestors

Do you have South Carolina ancestors?  Did your North Carolina ancestors move south?  If so, you are in for at treat today. Cheri Passey of Carolina Girl Genealogy is sharing your knowledge of researching South Carolina genealogy as guest blogger today.

Do you have South Carolina ancestors? Your need to know information for beginning your genealogy research in South Carolina.

Researching Your South Carolina Ancestors

Whether your ancestors were French Huguenots escaping religious persecution, immigrants from Europe, transplants from Barbados or brought as a result of enslavement, there are many resources available to help you trace your South Carolina Heritage.  There are too many to give a complete listing in one blog post so instead, here is a list of 5 things you can do that will help as you research in South Carolina.

1) Learn the history

From its early days when the Spanish attempted a settlement in the 1500’s to today, South Carolina has always been a land in the thick of whatever political, religious or cultural events affected society.  It is important to understand what was going on during a specific period and why your ancestors were living  in a specific area. County Histories are a great way to discover what may have been happening in the community that affected  the creation of records for your ancestors.

2)  Know the layout of the land.

South Carolina made up of the Low Country of the coast to the Upcountry to the west. This dividing line, a natural fault line, almost cuts the state in half. Culturally the state was split in half for many generations.

The Low Country residents were more wealthy, with access early on to the government, court systems, and newspapers, schools and had a greater population of slaves.

In contrast were the Upcountry or BackCountry  as it is also called settlers who were poorer farmers  who struggled to make a living and take care of their families. Slave labor was part of this region but on average there were fewer in number.

Until the late 1700’s records, including probate and land were recorded in Charleston. Traveling to Charleston would have been a long, tedious, expensive journey for upcountry ancestors.

The border with North Carolina and it’s many surveys should be taken into consideration when looking at records. An ancestor you thought lived in South Carolina during a specific period may have been living in North Carolina. The opposite can be true as well. At different times,   South Carolina was divided into Parishes, Districts, and Counties. The names and boundaries changed several  times over the course of time. A good map is needed to be sure research is conducted in the correct jurisdiction and to consider how roads and waterways would have provided means of travel  and migration routes.

3) Understand South Carolina Record Groups

There are many types of records available for researching in South Carolina. These are just a few.

 Vital Records-Birth, Marriage and Death records were not required to be registered statewide until 1911 for marriages and 1915 for Births and Deaths.  Fortunately, many of the state’s cities and towns  recorded this information before these dates.  The Church of England was the State Church from 1709-1778 and was charged with recording the vital information for its parishioners.  Court records from early time periods also may contain Marriage Settlements-allowing the bride to keep her property.

Census Records-South Carolina participated in the 1790-1880 and 1900-1940 US Federal Census. These are available online except the 1800 Richland District Census, which is missing.  Several State Censuses, including Population and Agricultural are also available.

Military-South Carolinians participated in conflicts since the earliest days of the state.  From the Colonial Wars to the World Wars,  records can be found either online or locally.

It is important to remember that the Civil War Pension Records of South Carolina were applied for locally in each county. These did not begin until 1888 with many changes  made to the law over the years.  Many of these pension records did not survive, but those that did can be found at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

Court Records– In colonial times, all government records were filed, and records held in Charleston. This caused many of those living in the Upcountry to be unable to file records or seek help from the courts due to the distance. Seven Court Circuits were created in 1769 and were functional by 1772. Still, these records were kept in Charleston.  County level records began in 1785 and District level records in 1880. These districts became counties again in 1868. Understanding the formation of the court system in South Carolina and how it applies to the period your ancestor lived in will help in determining where to look for records.  Many of these records have been filmed and can be found at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

Land Records– Land records are readily available for South Carolina and provide the researcher with a wealth of information.  The early settlers  received “Headrights” as an enticement to immigrate.  Depending on the time period, they were given land based on the number and ages of their household. Servants and Slaves were included in determining the amount of land the head of household could obtain.

Once in South Carolina, a petition for the land had to be filed. The petitioner’s name and where the land was located were listed. Some records include information on birth, country of origin and household members. A survey of the plot drawn and the names of neighbors, landmarks and any rivers or streams on the property added.  Records of land sales from owner to owner were recorded until 1785 in the office of the Mesne Conveyance.  Later land purchases were recorded in counties or districts depending on the time period.

Land Memorials, which follow the title of a piece of land were required from 1731-1775. These have been indexed and placed on line at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History website.  Also worth checking are the North Carolina Land Records for border counties. As mentioned earlier, several  boundary changes occurred and land records that were granted in North Carolina were actually in the State of South Carolina.

African American Records- Finding enslaved ancestors in South Carolina can be a daunting process, although not impossible. The 1870 census is the first to name formerly enslaved people. From there the task is to connect with the former owner and search for clues in their records. Names listed in Wills, Bills of Sale and Church Records can be used to connect families. Court records can also be a good source of information for post-1865 cases involving land and other judgments.  Local Genealogy Societies from the countries your ancestors were from may be able to provide help deterring what is available to help in your research.

 Newspapers-A great way to learn about South Carolina ancestors is to look for them in newspapers. Charleston began publishing in 1732 and other areas followed.  These include regional, religious and ethnic papers. Many of South Carolina’s newspapers have been microfilmed and viewed in libraries or digitized and searched online.  Several books have been published with abstracts of Birth, Death and Marriage Notices from the state’s papers.

4) Get involved locally

One of the best resources for researching in South Carolina are the many Genealogical and Historical Societies throughout the state. Visiting and joining these groups can lead you to a wealth of information. In them, you will discover those who are experts in a particular area and can tell you things about your ancestors communities that no one else can. I have discovered books, pictures, artifacts and records that were not available anywhere else.   Many have ongoing projects to preserve and archive records.  Volunteering your time to help with these projects will help you learn and give back.

If you live too far away to be physically at meetings, many have online communities where you can ask for help and provide the same for others.

 5) Make a South Carolina Research Toolbox

Here are some of my go-to sites for researching in South Carolina

Researching South Carolina ancestors, recording and remembering their lives and contributions to their families and the history of the state is a rewarding experience. It is my hope that by doing these five things, you will be able to discover yours.

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 Cheri Passey - Carolina Girl Genealogy Cheri Hudson Passey has been researching her family and helping others get started with their research since the early 1980’s. Born in Camden, SC, the majority of her ancestors come from many of the counties in South Carolina. Truly a “Carolina Girl” for many generations.  A love of History and Genealogy has grown into a passion for not only researching  names, dates, and places, but family pictures, stories, and ephemera.Her Genealogy 1-on-1 classes provide individual instruction for beginners and coaching for all levels and needs.Cheri is a member of the National Genealogical Society, Association of Professional Genealogists, The NextGen Genealogy Network, The South Carolina Historical Society, The South Carolina Genealogical Society, and several South Carolina County Genealogy Societies. She currently serves as President of the Grand Strand Genealogy Club.  Her Blog “Carolina Girl Genealogy” has been instrumental in connecting with and sharing information about her family and the research process.

Contact me with any questions you may have about researching in South Carolina or other research topics.


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Do you have South Carolina ancestors? Your need to know information for beginning your genealogy research in South Carolina.
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4 thoughts on “How To Research Your South Carolina Ancestors”

  1. I saved this blog in Evernote. I will be creating an SC toolbox, too. I have done a lot of SC research but still feel like a novice with it. Thanks, Cheri for the great blog!

  2. Enjoyed how Cheri tied all the resources together and have your Plan for South Carolina Research. It’s the Hotbed for African American Research. LowCountry is the best in keeping us informed. Great Piece!

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