Background Sources for South Carolina

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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
the South Carolina Family History Research series.
History of South Carolina
South Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for South Carolina
Background Sources for South Carolina
South Carolina Maps
South Carolina Land Records
South Carolina Probate Records
South Carolina Court Records
South Carolina Tax Records
South Carolina Cemetery Records
South Carolina Church Records
South Carolina Military Records
South Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
South Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
South Carolina Immigration
African Americans of South Carolina
South Carolina County/District Resources
Map of South Carolina


Successful research in South Carolina requires the researcher to be familiar with three things: (1) the cultural and topographical division of the state into Up Country and Low Country (see above), (2) the checkered history of local government formation (see County/District Resources), and (3) the laws of the state. The most comprehensive collection of South Carolina laws is found in Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord, eds., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 10 vols. (Columbia, S.C., 1836–41). See also John D. Cushing, comp., The First Laws of the State of South Carolina (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1981).

Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina: A History (1983; reprint, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1997) covers South Carolina’s colonial history. Researchers should consult Richard N. Coté, comp., Local and Family History in South Carolina: A Bibliography (Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1981) for a comprehensive list of publications. See also John Hammond Moore, Research Materials in South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1967).

Brent Howard Holcomb, A Guide to South Carolina Genealogical Research and Records (Columbia, S.C.: the author, 1986) and George K. Schweitzer, South Carolina Genealogical Research (Knoxville, Tenn.: the author, 1985), serve as guides for research in South Carolina.

No researcher can afford to overlook the “Combined Alphabetical Index” of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, now called the “On-line Records Index”. The current version of the 293,212 items includes Index to Multiple Record Series, ca. 1675–1929; Will Transcripts, 1782–1855; Colonial Land Grants, Confederate Pension Applications, 1919–1926; Plats for State Land Grants, 1784–1868; Legislative Papers, 1782–1866; Criminal Journals, 1769–1776. Not all series have been indexed to the same depth, and not all series cover the entire province or state; nonetheless, it is one of the most valuable resources available to genealogists. A link to an updated “Series List” of the records indexed appears on that webpage.

See also Charles H. Lesser, South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663–1721 (Columbia, S.C.: The South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1995), containing a detailed description of most of South Carolina’s records before 1721 and instructions on their use.

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