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Genealogical Research in South Carolina

Genealogy Research South Carolina

As one of the original thirteen colonies, there are many historical and genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in South Carolina. Because there are so many records held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping you to understand:

  • What they are
  • Where to find them
  • How to use them

These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in South Carolina. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Palmetto State” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your South Carolina ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of South Carolina

Several Indian groups populated the region before European settlement, notably the Cherokee and others of Iroquoian stock, the Catawba, and those of Muskogean blood. Spanish sailors explored the area in the sixteenth century and unsuccessfully attempted to establish a settlement at Winyah Bay in 1526. Another colony established near Parrish Island by French Huguenots thirty six years later also failed, and it wasn’t until 1670 that the first permanent settlement was established by the English at Albemarle Point.

The coastal swamps were favorable for the cultivation of rice, made profitable by the use of slave labor, and soon the region was flourishing. Other Europeans, namely Irish, Scottish, German, and Welsh flocked to the southern part of the new province, while inland areas continued to develop. Generally the settlers were on friendly terms with the Native American population, though there was a small uprising of Yamasee in 1715, fueled by Spanish colonists at St. Augustine, which was successfully put down.

South Carolina, due to the original grant by the Crown, was an exceptionally large colony, so it was soon divided into the two separate provinces of North Carolina and Georgia. This division sealed South Carolina’s fate to become a relatively small state. The colonists successfully overturned the rule of the original proprietors in 1719, and the Crown assumed control of the government on 1721.

The area was an unsettled one, and skirmishes with the Indians, Spanish, French and pirates, and a slave uprising in 1739, defined the pre-Revolutionary period. South Carolina played an active role in the American Revolution after opposing the Stamp Act in 1765, and Fort Charlotte in McCormick County was the first property seized by Revolutionary forces in 1775. Leaders from South Carolina took an active part in the federal constitution convention in 1787, and South Carolina became the eighth state to ratify the constitution on May 23, 1788.

Taxes and slavery were the main issues in the state in the period between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and though able to compromise on taxes with the federal government, there was no such give with the subject of slavery. When South Carolina seceded from the union in 1860, more than half the population of the state were black slaves.

The Civil War erupted in South Carolina at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Sea Islands were quickly captured by Union forces, but Charleston withstood a long and relentless siege until February 1865. Columbia was burned by General Sherman and his troops towards the end of the war, and the state experienced widespread destruction throughout. Over 60,000 soldiers from South Carolina fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, with close to 14,000 killed in battle or dying while in capture.

South Carolina was occupied by Union troops following the war, and the Reconstruction era saw the state plunged into debt. This situation led a revision of the state constitution and at a convention in 1868 where black representatives outnumbered whites by 76:48, the first significant political gains of blacks, namely the positions of US representative and lieutenant governor occurred.

Political representation of blacks was unpopular with white militants, known as Red Shirts, who rode through the countryside urging white voters to back the gubernatorial candidacy of former Confederate General Wade Hampton. Hampton won the election, but was restrained from taking office by the Republican incumbent until President Rutherford B. Hayes declared an end to Reconstruction and began the withdrawal of federal troops from the state in April 1877.

  • Important Dates in South Carolina History
    • 1663 – Area granted to eight proprietors
    • 1669 – Fundamental constitution of the colony devised
    • 1706 – Province divided into twelve parishes
    • 1712 – Carolina divided into two provinces
    • 1715 – Yamasee uprising
    • 1719 – Becomes a Royal colony
    • 1780 – British forces occupy Charleston
    • 1781 – Battle of Cowpens
    • 1782 – British evacuate Charleston
    • 1860 – Secedes from Union
    • 1861 – Fort Sumter attacked
    • 1865 – Union troops take Charleston
    • 1865 – Union troops burn Columbia
    • 1868 – Readmitted to Union

Famous Battles Fought in South Carolina

Among the many battles fought in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War were the major Patriot victories at Ft. Moultrie in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in1776, the Battle of Kings Mountain, in 1780, and the Battle of Cowpens in 1781.

The first battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Fort Sumter, took place in South Carolina, bombardment of the Union stronghold beginning on April 7, 1863. The Battle of Fort Wagner at Morris Island was a bloody affair resulting in a Confederate victory, while other engagements of note took place at Honey Hill in 1864 and River’s Bridge in 1865.

These battle accounts that exist can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men.

Common South Carolina Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching South Carolina ancestors. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of South Carolina.

Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.

South Carolina Genealogical Organizations and Archives

Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.

South Carolina Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – county records, census, manuscripts, historical newspapers, maps, photographs, Native American index, surname list, military name index

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas State University – manuscript collections, literary papers, diaries and journals, photographs, broadsides, maps, audio visual items, oral histories, and printed material.

      University Archives
      Farrell Library
      Manhattan, KS 66506
      Tel: (913) 532-7456

Additional South Carolina Genealogical Resources

South Carolina Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on South Carolina genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of South Carolina Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.

South Carolina Message Boards

A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the South Carolina Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

South Carolina Newspapers and Periodicals

Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills.

  • South Carolina newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – African American publications, Civilian Conservation Corps, Labour Populist publications, Socialist publications, Territorial period newspapers, History of Kansas newspapers from1916

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas Heritage Center – most of the newspapers published in Dodge City from 1876 to the present and newspapers from several other Kansas towns.

      PO Box 1207
      Dodge City KS 67801-1207
      Tel: 620-227-1616
      Fax: 620-227-1701

    • – free searchable database of Kansas newspaper archives, 1841-1981
    • Library of Congress Digital Newspaper Directory – free searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers dating from 1690-present
    • The Online Books Page – links to historical books and periodicals available for viewing online, dating from mid-16th century
    • – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.

Historical South Carolina Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in.

For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research.

South Carolina City Directories

City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in South Carolina is the South Carolina Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available historical directory related to South Carolina.

South Carolina Genealogical Records

Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories and websites where you can find South Carolina vital records

South Carolina began recording official records of births and deaths in 1911. Marriage licenses were required starting in 1867, but not filed at state level until 1913.

  • Copies of vital records after those dates must be requested from the:
    • Kansas Office of Vital Statistics

      Charles B. Curtis State Office Building
      1000 SW Jackson Street
      Suite 120
      Topeka, KS 66612-1221
      Tel: 785-296-1400.

    • Kansas Genealogical Society – various historical vital records

      KGS, PO Box 103
      Dodge City, KS 67801-0103
      Tel: (620) 225 - 1951

    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – extensive collection of vital records dating from pre-territorial times

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

Marriage and Divorce Records

Marriages prior to May 1913 were recorded in the district county courts where the marriage took place. South Carolina marriage licenses did not include the names of the parents unless the bride or groom was underage. Records can be found at:

Divorce records from 1861 until July 1951 were recorded in the South Carolina District Courts.

Copies of official divorce records after July 1951 can be ordered from the South Carolina Office of Vital Statistics.

Census Reports

Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.

South Carolina Church Records

Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them.

Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records.

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.

South Carolina Military Records

More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.

South Carolina Cemetery Records

As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:

  • Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
  • The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
  • Databases that can be searched online for South Carolina Cemetery records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
    • - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
    • Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.

South Carolina Wills and Probate Records

The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors.

Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.

South Carolina probate records have been recorded by the probate division clerks of the South Carolina District Courts and include dockets, wills, oaths, inventories, letters, bonds, appraisements, accounts, court orders, claims, and final settlements.

South Carolina Immigration and Naturalization Records

The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

Most overseas immigrants came to South Carolina through east coast ports such as New, and then traveled by railway to South Carolina. Earlier immigrants landed at New Orleans and then traveled by steamboats upriver to South Carolina. The U.S. National Archives has passenger lists or indexes of American ports for 1820 to 1940, as well as immigration and naturalization records for the entire United States. These records can also be accessed at the National Archives Regional Branch in South Carolina City

South Carolina Native American Records

Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female South Carolina Ancestors

Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in South Carolina where traditional records may not reveal them.


  • South Carolina Women, Idella Bodie (Sandlapper Publishing, 1978)
  • Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880-1920, David Carlton (Louisiana State University Press, 1982)
  • Carolina Families: A Bibliography of Books About North and South Carolina Families, Donald M. Hehir (Heritage Books, 1994)
  • A Hard Fight for We: Women’s Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina, Leslie A. Schwalm (University of Illinois Press, 1997)

Selected Resources for South Carolina Women’s History

Association of Black Women Historians
Department of History
South Carolina State University
Orangeburg, SC 29117

Ida Jane Dacus Library
Winthrop College
Oakland Avenue
Rock Hill, SC 29733

Common South Carolina Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in South Carolina and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.

Abercrombie, Adair, Adams, Alewine, Anderson, Armstrong, Arnald, Arnold, Ashley, Atkin, Bagwell, Baker, Baldwin, Banister, Bannister, Barbara, Barker, Batson, Baynard, Bayne, Beason, Beaty, Bertha, Betty, Bigby, Bishop, Blackwell, Bleman, Bohle, Boiter, Bowyer, Bramlett, Bramlette, Brissey, Broadway, Brock, Brook, Brooks, Broome, Brown, Brunson, Bryant, Bryson, Buchanan, Buggew, Bullock, Burch, Burdette, Burgess, Burke, Burrell, Callaham, Campbell, Capps, Carter, Case, Casey, Chabra, Chambers, Chandler, Chapman, Chastain, Chasteen, Clamp, Clardy, Clark, Classen, Cleveland, Cobb, Coffee, Coker, Collins, Conn, Cooley, Cothran, Cousins, Cox, Craine, Crawford, Crowe, Croy, Crumley, Curtis, Darby, Davenport, Davidson, Davis, Dean, Dominick, Downes, Downs, Driggers, Duncan, Dunlap, Dunn, Durham, Eads, Elgin, Ellingburg, Erickson, Erwin, Eskew, Ester, Etris, Evans, Evelyn, Farmer, Faye, Ficklin, Fields, Finch, Findley, Flicker, Ford, Fortson, Fowler, Franks, Freeman, Fullbright, Fuller, Gambrell, Garrett, Gay, Gentry, George, Gilreath, Gossett, Graham, Greene, Gregory, Grumbles, Gunnels, Hammonds, Hand, Hanna, Hansen, Harper, Harris, Harrison, Hatcher, Hembree, Henderson, Henry, Herlong, Hill, Hillhouse, Hills, Holcombe, Holley, Holliday, Hollingsworth, Hood, Hooper, Hopkins, Howard, Howell, Hudson, Hunter, Hutchinson, Ivey, Ivie, Jackson, Jenkins, Johnny, Johnson, Katherine, Kay, Keeler, Keesler, Keitt, Kelly, Kennemore, King, Kissimon, Kizian, Knight, Knox, Kutch, Lambert, Landress, Larkin, Leathers, Leopard, Lewis, Linch, Lindley, Lingford, Little, Littlefield, Livingston, Lollis, Louise, Mackey, Madden, Maddox, Mahr, Manning, Margie, Marie, Marlar, Martin, Mayfield, McBride, McClain, McColough, McCombs, McConnel, McCoy, McCuen, McDaniel, McGaha, McKee, McKellar, Medlin, Merch, Merle, Middleton, Miller, Minnie, Mize, Moon, Moore, Morgan, Mullinax, Murphy, Nance, Neely, Nickels, Norman, Ogle, Oliver, Outs, Outz, Owens, Pace, Padgett, Page, Parker, Parsons, Patterson, Patton, Payne, Payton, Peden, Perry, Phillips, Pilgram, Poole, Poore, Powell, Pruitt, Ramey, Rankin, Rasmussen, Reed, Reeves, Rena, Rhodes, Ridge, Ridley, Roberts, Robertson, Robinson, Rochester, Rodgers, Rodrigriezs, Rogers, Rooker, Rooten, Ross, Ruth, Rutledge, Ryels, S, Sara, Sarah, Saville, Scott, Sears, Seggers, Seymour, Sinclair, Smith, South, Southern, Spivey, Staton, Stevens, Stone, Stowe, Strickland, Stringer, Tammy, Taylor, Thomas, Thompson, Tollet, Tollison, Trantham, Traynum, Tumblin, Tyner, Vaughn, Venzke, Vickery, Vincent, Vinson, Warren, Watkins, Westbrook, Whitaker, White, Whiten, Whitmore, William, Williams, Willis, Wilson, Winfree, Woehrle, Wolfe, Woodchuck, Woods, Woodson, Wooten, York, Young

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