Tracing Ancestors Before the US Census

By David A. Fryxell Premium

Q. I’ve been searching for the parents of an ancestor who’s listed in the 1790 census in Rowan County, NC. How can I look for him and his parents before this first US census?
A. Colonial censuses, tax lists, wills, estate files and land records can sometimes help you push back in time before the 1790 beginning of the federal census. North Carolina conducted a state census between 1784 and 1787, which is available on The site also has two digitized volumes of North Carolina Taxpayers by Clarence E. Ratcliff, a book transcribing these lists.
Also search an index to North Carolina estate files dating back to 1663 on Results are linked to images of the originals, which includes more than 200 pre-1790 probate records from Rowan County. Search, too, for published abstracts of North Carolina wills, such as those by J. Bryan Grimes. Originals of pre-1760 wills are at the state archives, while later wills are in county offices.
Land records survive from as far back as 1679 and can be found at the state archives. FamilySearch’s Family History Library has a partial index to these records on microfilm.
You can search the State Library of North Carolina’s Family Records Collection, which includes family Bibles that might help you find your ancestor’s parents, online.
From the May/June 2015 Family Tree Magazine

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