Vital Records

Birth, Adoption, Marriage, Cohabitation, Divorce, & Death



“The founders of North Carolina envisioned a well-regulated society in which all marriages were celebrated by priests of the Church of England and every marriage, birth, and death was publicly registered. However, the general unavailability of Anglican clergy in the province led to the toleration of other forms of marriage, while the rural nature of the colony and independent character of its citizens made registration of marriages and vital statistics impractical; evasion of the law was commonplace. Thus, despite well-intentioned provisions of the 1699 Fundamental Constitutions and a 1715 law instructing county officials to register ‘Births, Burials & Marriages … till there be a Clerk of the Parish Church,’ public record of marriages in North Carolina generally begins in 1742 and of births and deaths in 1913.”
~~~ page 151, Raymond A. Winslow, Jr.’s chapter on Marriages, Divorce, and Vital Records, North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, Second Edition; edited by Helen F. M. Leary, C.G., F.A.S.G.


Birth Records

Except for some counties in the eastern part of the state, North Carolina did not start issuing birth certificates before 1913, so anything prior to that time will have to come from other sources. Certainly, church records are one of the first places to look. Quakers kept detailed vital records, and, as long as those survive, they are invaluable. Other denominations may not have kept records that detailed, or those records may not survive.

Of course, census records can give the researcher a range for a birthdate. Cemetery tombstones, if they survive and are legible, can also be a good source; but one needs to remember that errors are possible on these. And death certificates can be wrong about the date and place of birth, and even the parents’ names. So it is wise to use multiple sources to confirm the information from any one source.

North Carolina, Birth Index, 1800-2000
North Carolina, Births and Christenings, 1866-1964

Also, another source of birth records are the bastardy bonds. As far as I know, only one Guilford bastardy bond survives from the 1770′s, and that is one from 1779. The rest of the surviving bonds for Guilford are from 1816-1874, 1877, and 1923.

Bastardy bonds were a means of holding the father of the child responsible for the child’s support, preventing the county from becoming responsible for the cost of supporting the child and its mother. Sometimes court records will reflect the existence at one time of a bastardy bond, when the bond itself does not survive, since the mother and father were brought to court as part of the process. The original bonds are kept in the North Carolina State Archives, under catalog numbers C.R.046.102.1 to C.R.046.102.3. They were microfilmed by the Family History Library in 1995 and 1996, and are available through any Family History Library branch.

Guilford County, North Carolina, Bastardy Bonds

The bondsman for a bastardy bond was usually a family member or a friend of the father, but it could also be someone else. You cannot infer any particular type of relationship without investigating it further.

A “delayed birth certificate” could be issued after 1913, for individuals born before 1913, to comply with Social Security regulations, or passport or other documentation requirements. An applicant would have to provide proof of birth date and/or age, birth place, and parents, using sources that included family Bibles, school records, military records, voter records, insurance policies, and affadavits from family and neighbors.

There were two registers of the certificates kept from 1913 until 1960 (one at county level and one at state level). After 1960, only the state register was required. There are restrictions as to what is available, under the right-to-privacy laws. The mailing address for North Carolina Vital Records is 1903 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC, 27699-1903. They require specific information first, and the payment of a fee, so please check this webpage:

North Carolina Vital Records: Genealogical Research


Adoption Records

These are often filed with “Miscellaneous Records.” “In the past, adoptions were often made informally, without process of law, without record, and even without the knowledge of any but a few persons directly concnered. Most adoption records are kept in the office of clerks of superior court, although some are held by the county directors of social services. They may be included in, and indexed under, Special Proceedings. Modern adoption records are not open to public use. However, older volumes called Record of Adoptions are generally available to the researcher. They contain petitions, court orders, and letters of adoption, showing the names of the persons seeking to adopt, the child’s name and any proposed change of name, the child’s custodian, the date, and the name of the superior court clerk.”
p. 171, Raymond A. Winslow, Jr., “Marriage, Divorce, and Vital Records,” in North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local Records, edited by Helen F. M. Leary, C.G., F.A.S.G.; p. 151-55.


Marriage Records


Cohabitation Records

“The abolition of slavery raised the question of the freedmen’s marriages. In 1866 the General Assembly passed ‘An Act Concerning Negroes and Persons of Color or of Mixed Blood.’ Those persons who wished to register their pre-emancipation marriages were required to appear before the clerk of the county court or a justice of the peace to acknowledge their marital status. These acknowledgments were to be recorded and regarded as proof that a marriage had, indeed, existed.”

Raymond A. Winslow, Jr., “Marriage, Divorce, and Vital Records,” in North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local Records, edited by Helen F. M. Leary, C.G., F.A.S.G.; p. 161.


Divorce Records

“The English legal requirements for absolute divorce (granted only by Parliament after separation for cause had been granted by an ecclesiastical court) precluded absolute divorce in eighteenth-century North Carolina, which had no church courts. Religious and social attitudes towards marriage (and related property rights) made divorce in the nineteenth century rare, although it was legally possible. Through both centuries, however, desertion was a common cause for legal separation. It was often cited in women’s petitions for release from restrictions on their right to own or control separate property. Desertion of the marital relationships was not limited to men, however — an 1819 newspaper offered special rates for inserting notices about ‘Eloped Wives or discarded Husbands.’

“Prior to the Revolution, what few separations were granted were in the form of orders of the General Court for separate maintenance, often called alimony. After the Revolution, the legal power to dissolve and suspend marriages was restricted to the General Assembly, which did not exercise it often. From 1814 to 1835 this authority was shared with the superior courts of the several counties, but in actual fact, the legislature was granting very few divorces by the 1820s. Since 1835, superior courts have had sole jurisdiction….”
pages 164-165, Raymond A. Winslow, Jr., “Marriage, Divorce, and Vital Records,” in North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local Records, edited by Helen F. M. Leary, C.G., F.A.S.G.; p. 158.


Death Records
Prior to 1913, for the most part, information on deaths will have to be obtained from family Bible records, census records, newspaper records, church records, wills and estates (usually yielding a date range only), and other types of records. There are some death certificates at the State Archives in Raleigh which date back to as early as 1907, according to reports from researchers.

Death certificates were required as of 1913, and there were two registers of the certificates from then until 1960 (one at county level and one at state level). After 1960, only the state register was required. There are restrictions as to what is available, under the right-to-privacy laws. The mailing address for North Carolina Vital Records is 1903 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC, 27699-1903. They require specific information first, and the payment of a fee, so please check this webpage:

North Carolina Vital Records: Genealogical Research
Older death certificates are held at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, and are open to viewing.

North Carolina State Archives
It is wise to remember that the informant for the death certificate may have given wrong information for remote events or other details, whether due to grief, confusion or distraction, or simply not knowing and/or guessing at the answer. Verify the information with every other type of record that you can find, and weigh the evidence, cite your sources, and note your reasoning and conclusions.

* * * * * * *

When researching individuals from the earlier decades of Guilford’s history, the exact or approximate date of death can be determined sometimes from other records.  I am gradually combining names and dates from the main record sources for the first seven decades, starting with wills and estates.  See pages for “deaths.”


The information made available above is strictly for private use and is not for republication in any form. The publisher of the book cited owns the copyright to the material.