Background Sources for Delaware

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG, in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

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

The earliest state history is Original Settlements on the Delaware, by Benjamin Ferris (1846; reprint with index, Wilmington: Delaware Genealogical Society, 1987). The standard for the state, however, is J. Thomas Scharf, History of Delaware 1609–1888, 2 vols. (1888; reprint, Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972, and Westminster, Md.: Family Line Publications, 1990), indexed by Gladys M. Coghlan and Dale Fields, 3 vols. (Wilmington: Historical Society of Delaware, 1976). It has errors but is useful for its many lists of names from tax records, petitions, road lists, and other sources. Henry C. Conrad’s History of the State of Delaware, 3 vols. (Wilmington: the author, 1908) is also helpful for pinpointing individuals through its state and county civil lists.

More modern works are Carol E. Hoffecker, comp., Readings in Delaware History (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1973), and John A. Munroe, A History of Delaware, 2d ed. (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1984).

H. Clay Reed, ed., Delaware: History of the First State, 3 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1947) is also good; however, volume three is a “mug book.” (The term “mug book” refers to those printed sources that present pictures and biographies of those who subscribed to the publication.) Similar works, which must be used with care, are Wilson Lloyd Bevan, ed., History of Delaware Past and Present, 4 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1929), with mug books for the last two volumes; Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, 2 vols. (Chambersburg, Pa.: J. M. Runk & Co., 1899); and James M. McCarter and B. F. Jackson, Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware (Wilmington: Aldine Publishing and Engraving Co., 1882).

There are many useful histories with a narrower focus, particularly concerning the Dutch, English, and Swedes. Clinton A. Weslager has written four works: Dutch Explorers, Traders and Settlers in the Delaware Valley, 1609–1664 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961); The English on the Delaware, 1610–1682 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1967); The Swedes and Dutch at New Castle; and New Sweden on the Delaware, 1638–1655, the latter two published by Middle Atlantic Press, 1987 and 1988, respectively. Weslager also abstracted Dutch notarial records relating to the colony on the Delaware, 1656–76, published in Delaware History 20 (1982): 1-26, 73-97.

Amandus Johnson’s The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1638–1664, 2 vols. (1911; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969) is the standard work on the subject, but Israel Acrelius’s A History of New Sweden (1874; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1972) is also one of the basics, as is Rev. Jehu Curtis Clay’s Annals of the Swedes on the Delaware, 4th ed. (Chicago: John Ericsson Memorial Committee, 1938), although the earlier editions are better. Two excellent newer works are Stellan Dahlgren and Hans Norman, The Rise and Fall of New Sweden (Stockholm: Alurqvist and Wiksell, 1988) and Alf Åberg, The People of New Sweden (Stockholm: Naturochkultur, 1988). These histories should be used with New York Historical Manuscripts: Dutch Volumes XVIII–XIX Delaware Papers (Dutch Period)…, 1648–1664 and New York Historical Manuscripts: Dutch Volumes XX–XXI Delaware Papers (English Period)…, 1664–1682, both edited by Charles T. Gehring (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981, 1977). Unfortunately, Evert Alexander Louhi’s The Delaware Finns (New York: Humanity Press, 1925) is far too imaginative to be considered accurate.

For a later period, see Charles H. B. Turner, comp., Rodney’s Diary and Other Delaware Records (Philadelphia: Allen, Lane and Scott, 1911), which includes records for 1813 up to 1829 from public and private sources of Delaware as well as Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Bruce A. Bendler’s Colonial Delaware Assemblymen, 1682–1776 (Westminster, Md.: Family Line Publications, 1989), is a biographical dictionary covering over 300 Delaware officials. See the review essay of this work in The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 36 (1990): 251-56 and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 115 (1991): 262-64.


For a fine general background of history and genealogical sources, consult the chapter on Delaware by Milton Rubincam, FASG, in Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources, vol. 1, rev. ed., ed. by Milton Rubincam (Washington, D.C.: American Society of Genealogists, 1980), 261-70. Excellent and more up-to-date is Thomas P. Doherty, Delaware Genealogical Research Guide, 3d ed. (Wilmington: Delaware Genealogical Society, 2002), with updates posted at the genealogical society’s website at

Delaware Place Names, by L. W. Heck and others, Geological Survey Bulletin No. 1245 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966) is very good and should be supplemented with Henry Gannett’s A Gazetteer of Maryland and Delaware, 2 vols. (1904; reprint in one volume, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976).

Henry Clay and Marion B. Reed, A Bibliography of Delaware Through 1960 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1966) lists biographies and family histories and is supplemented by Bibliography of Delaware 1960–1974 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1976) and by updates in Delaware History, beginning in volume 17.