North Carolina Research Opportunities in Raleigh

By Carolyn L. Barkley

In about six weeks, hundreds of genealogists and family historians will meet in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the National Genealogical Society’s 2009 Conference in the States, “The Building of a Nation, from Roanoke to the West.” Many of us will take advantage of our conference attendance to arrive a few days early in order to concentrate on North Carolina-related research problems. Since I advocate (but don’t always practice!) advance preparation for research trips, I’d like to  share with you information about several research institutions in the Triangle area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) that you may want to visit while you are staying in Raleigh, the “City of Oaks.”

1. North Carolina State Library.  Located at 109 E. Jones Street, the State Library is easily accessible via the free Circulator Bus from the conference hotel or convention center (get off at the corner of Edenton and Wilmington). Library hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:00 pm, although you may want to call to check about any special hours during the week of the conference.

Genealogical services are located on the mezzanine floor west. The collection includes “family histories, published abstracts, periodicals, county histories, and reference materials” as well as “published materials for areas from which many North Carolinians came, and states to which many…migrated.” The library’s web site offers several helpful resources including forms (ancestor chart, county formation chart, cousin chart) and information about “Getting Started,” “Tracking Back to NC,”  “Finding Slave Records,” and the “North Carolina Newspaper Project.” Each of these may be printed as a pdf handout for your files. In addition, discussions of vital records and their substitutes, and Tennessee counties formerly part of North Carolina can be downloaded as a handout and will be helpful in developing your research plan.

Once you have read through these several finding aids, you will want to search the catalog. Creating your own list of resources to consult – before you leave home – will reduce time spent waiting for online catalog access once you are at the library. In developing your catalog search, be sure to select the collection you wish to search (“genealogy”) to limit unrelated responses to your search. A keyword search for “Barkley” yielded only 2 entries: a citation for my book on Princess Anne County (Virginia) marriage bonds and another author-name-related entry. A similar search for “Barclay” was more successful, resulting in 8 entries, including several compiled genealogies containing references to Barclay families and a vertical file entry for a Barkley family. This latter entry was not located during the “Barkley” keyword search, so it is important to search using all name variants.

Several online databases at the library may be useful in your research. The list of databases notes that those marked with an * are not available remotely, while those resources noted as “NC LIVE” are available remotely only if you live in North Carolina (requiring you to choose your library and enter a password). All databases, however, are available for use in the State Library. Databases of particular helpfulness in your research include “Digital Sanborn Maps for North Carolina”, “African American Experience,” “North American Women’s Letters and Diaries,” and “JSTOR” (full-text academic journal articles) .

2.  North Carolina State Archives. The State Archives is also located at 109 E. Jones Street and is one of my favorite places to research. The archives, normally closed on Mondays, will provide special access on Monday, May 11th from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for conference attendees. It will also be open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Thursday, May 14th from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. On Saturday, May 16th, the archives will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with no closure at lunchtime. Again, the archives can be easily reached from the conference hotel or civic center via the free Circulator Bus.

As with any archive, there are rules to be observed in order to use the facility. Free lockers are available, as books, envelopes, briefcases, laptop cases, pens and scanners are not allowed in the search room; purses may not be taken into the microfilm room. You will be asked to register at the security desk outside of the archives entrance door and will be asked for proof of your identification (driver’s license with picture will suffice). You will be issued an archives ID card that you will use in requesting original records during your visit and will return to the security desk when you leave the facility for the day.

Details about how to search for specific items and request materials are available in the “Research and Security Policies” section of the archives’ web site. To prepare for your research in the North Carolina State Archives, you will want to consult Helen F. M. Leary’s North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History (2nd ed., North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996). This title is indispensable as it identifies the types of records available and discusses how they may be used effectively. Other helpful titles include Barbara T. Cain’s Guide to Private Manuscript Collections in the North Carolina State Archives (NC Division of Archives and History, 1999), as well as the Guide to Research Materials in the North Carolina State Archives: County Records (rev. ed., NC Division of Archives and History, 2002). A word of warning before your print this last title – it is 379 pages long. You may want to save it on your hard drive for reference purposes. Other titles published by the Division of Archives and History are available for purchase on the division’s website.

Finally, you will want to search the MARS catalog (Manuscript and Archives Reference System) to locate materials pertaining to your research. (When using the link provided here, choose the first collection “NC State Archives,” and then proceed with your search.) You can search by keyword, etc. either across all collections, or for a single collection such as “Bible Records.” While it is not the most user-friendly search process, it will help you identify resources that you might otherwise overlook. My standard “Barkley” search yielded a long list of collections and the number of hits within each. For example, there are 12 hits for “Barkley” within Revolutionary Army [Pay] Accounts. Pension Bureau Civil War applications under the legislation of 1885 yielded 16 hits (although the search summary said only 1 hit). As a result of this search, I now have specific citations for documents that I can request when I arrive.

3. If you have access to transportation while in Raleigh (personal car, taxi, etc.), you may want to schedule research time at the following institutions:

  •  Meredith College, Carlyle Campbell Library is located about 3 miles from the North Carolina State Archives. If you have North Carolina Baptist ancestors, the library’s holdings of the Biblical Recorder, the journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, which began publication in 1834, will be essential to your research. A series of printed indices provide access to the contents that are available on microfilm. This resource is the only location in which I have been able to document the birth location and date for one of my husband’s ancestors, Rhodes Barkley, a Missionary Baptist preacher in North Carolina. His published obituary, as well as reports of his preaching and conference activities, have enhanced the emerging story of his life. In addition, Meridith offers a very extensive list of online databases including, “North Carolina Periodicals Index,” “North Carolina Community Newsletters,” ”North Carolina Encyclopedia,” and “Historical Abstracts.”
  •  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Louis Round Wilson Library. Wilson Library is located on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill. The collection is open to researchers free of charge, weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The Manuscripts Department on the fourth floor of Wilson Library houses the Southern Historical Collection and the Southern Folklife Collection, as well as the general manuscript collection. The North Carolina Collection, also located in Wilson Library, may also prove helpful. Materials in this collection are in closed-stacks and you will need to have a current photo-ID in order to request materials. Please note that backpacks, purses, and laptop cases are not allowed in the reading room; free lockers are provided. The North Carolina Collection has a goal of acquiring “all published family and local histories related to North Carolina, as well as published vital records.” Clipping files from North Carolina newspapers and a biographical index to the collection are included in the collection.

One of the library’s strengths is an extensive photographic archives collection with almost 500,000 images. Many, but not all, are included in the university library catalog, and a departmental database is accessible to staff. It is recommended that you contact the photographic archives prior to your visit to describe your research needs and to schedule an appointment, so that images may be assembled and ready for your viewing when you arrive. You will also want to check out a variety of digital collections including the “Gilmer Civil War Maps” collection and the “North Carolina County” collection.

I hope this information has inspired you to plan your research trip to Raleigh as a part of your NGS conference attendance – or as a trip totally dedicated to North Carolina research. Here are additional titles of interest:





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