North Carolina Land Records

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the North Carolina Family History Research series.
History of North Carolina
North Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for North Carolina
Background Sources for North Carolina
North Carolina Maps
North Carolina Land Records
North Carolina Probate Records
North Carolina Court Records
North Carolina Tax Records
North Carolina Cemetery Records
North Carolina Church Records
North Carolina Military Records
North Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
North Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Ethnic Groups of North Carolina
North Carolina County Resources
Map of North Carolina

North Carolina is a State-Land State.

The availability of land in North Carolina drew thousands of settlers from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland during the mid-to-late 1700s. Until Colonel William Byrd of Westover surveyed the northern border of North Carolina, Virginia sometimes granted to its citizens land that belonged to North Carolina. Those grants may be found in Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 4 vols. (1934; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing co., 1991).

The process of patenting land in North Carolina was not complex. Anyone wanting to patent land submitted an application (also called a land entry) to a land office. The land officer then issued a warrant. Land officers included the secretary of state (1669'1776), the agents of Earl Granville (1748'76), or the county entry taker (1778'present). The warrant was taken to a surveyor who surveyed the land and sketched a plat (map) of the claim. The plat was then filed in the land office or, after 1777, recorded by the county register of deeds, and a patent for the land was issued and recorded. Land grants and related indexes are available at the North Carolina State Archives (see [North Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies]). If you write to the archives, furnish the full name of the grantee and the county in which the grant was made. Detailed instructions for requesting information by mail, fax or online, visit this section of the archive's website The Granville grants and other miscellaneous papers have been indexed and can be accessed by MARS, a database of the North Carolina State Archives online at; the Search Room at the archives has a card catalog of grants of deeds. The FHL has this collection on 522 reels of microfilm. The free website has all the land grant data from MARS in an easy to search format - over 216,000 records. Grants recorded in patent books 1-30 are linked directly to images from those pages almost always with the complete metes and bounds, with more book image coming online soon. Grants for Mecklenburg County are linked to images of surveys, warrants and other related documents.

During the proprietary period (1663'1729) the Lords Proprietors relied on a headright system to distribute land grants. The standard headright of fifty acres per person established in Virginia was adopted in the Carolinas about 1697; before that time a sliding scale was used that granted one hundred acres to heads of families but only six acres to women servants when their terms expired. The governor was allowed to sell tracts of 640 acres or less to those without headrights, or who had used their headrights for free land. To keep people in North Carolina, the assembly forbade the sale of headrights until the claimant had been in the colony for two years. The proprietary land patents are available at the North Carolina State Archives and on microfilm at the FHL. See Margaret M. Hofmann, Province of North Carolina, 1663'1729, Abstracts of Land Patents (Roanoke Rapids, N.C.: the author, 1983) for abstracts from the Secretary of State's Land Grant Office, referencing over 25,000 surnames and places; and Caroline B. Whitley, North Carolina Headrights: A List of Names, 1663'1744 (Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Historical Publications Section, 2001) for headrights from published and manuscript sources.

Seven of the original proprietary shares were sold to King George II in 1729, and North Carolina became a royal colony. Only John Carteret, second Earl Granville, chose not to sell the share he had inherited. The Crown continued the headright system instituted by the Lords Proprietors, but modified the system in 1741 to again allow one hundred acres for the head-of-household. The Crown land office first opened in 1735, six years after the Crown purchased the province. Abstracts of Crown land patents are in Margaret M. Hofmann, Colony of North Carolina, 1735'1764, Abstracts of Land Patents and Colony of North Carolina, 1765'1775, Abstracts of Land Patents (Weldon, N.C.: Roanoke News Co., 1983'84).

The Granville District, an area that encompassed the upper half of present-day North Carolina, was created and partially surveyed in 1744 for John Carteret, second Earl Granville. Unlike the early proprietors, Granville owned all unsettled lands but had no right to govern the area. Earl Granville never visited North Carolina, but appointed agents there as representatives to grant land, collect rents, and conduct his business. The Granville land office opened in 1748. See Margaret M. Hofmann, The Granville District of North Carolina, 1748'1763: Abstracts of Land Grants, 5 vols. The titles of volumes four and five differ slightly from the first three; they are The Granville District of North Carolina, 1748'1763, and Abstracts of Miscellaneous Land Office Records. These publications are available at libraries with genealogical collections throughout the country. For an extensive list of these and other land record titles by the author, see For more information about the Granville District, see Thornton W. Mitchell, 'The Granville District and Its Land Records,' North Carolina Historical Review 70 (April 1991): 103-129.

After the Revolutionary War, the state of North Carolina granted land formerly owned by the Crown and Earl Granville. A settler could claim as much as 640 acres of unsettled land for himself and an additional hundred acres for his wife and each minor child for a fee of two pounds ten shillings per hundred acres. If the amount of land claimed exceeded the above allotment, the additional land cost five pounds per hundred acres. Most of the state grants have been microfilmed and are available at the North Carolina State Archives and the FHL, along with grants made in Tennessee to veterans who served in the Revolutionary War.

When land was sold by individuals, the transaction generally was recorded in county deed books. Most deed books are partially indexed, but to facilitate research, most North Carolina counties also have general indexes to grantees and grantors. Descriptions of land follow the 'metes and bounds' survey system (see page 6). Copies of deeds may be obtained from the county register of deeds, but many North Carolina county records have been microfilmed and are available at the North Carolina State Archives and the FHL. Additionally, many early North Carolina deed books have been abstracted and published. Copies of these publications may be found in libraries with genealogical collections.