Genealogical Research in South Carolina

Lesson I: Where To Start

The largest depositories of information for genealogical research in the state of South Carolina are to be found in the Midlands in Columbia and in the Low Country in Charleston. Located in Columbia are the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and the South Caroliniana Library which is located on the historic campus of the University of South Carolina . Research centers which may be found in Charleston are the Charleston Library Society, The Huguenot Society of South Carolina, and the South Carolina Historical Society. Spread across the state are many local genealogical and historical societies which house genealogical and historic memorabilia pertinent to the surrounding localities.

If you reside outside of the Palmetto state, it would be best to gather as much information on your family history as possible before traveling a long distance away from home to do research. One way to do that is to utilize the resources of the nearest Family History Library at a local Latter Days Saints Church (LDS). Bibliographies of Salt Lake City Library's records are on file in each Family History Library on microfiche and or CD-Rom. Microfilm of census records, family histories, probate records, and many more various records may be ordered from Salt Lake to be used at the local research center. Prices are quite reasonable and the resource may remain at that location permanently for a small additional fee. It's an easy way to get started close to home. (Please be aware that there are some South Carolina courthouse records on microfilm in the Salt Lake City Library which may not be copied and sent out to the local Family History Centers. They may only be viewed in Salt Lake City.)

Another way to get a head start on your research is via the South Carolina USGenWeb pages on the Internet. Get in touch with the coordinator for the county you are interested in. Have a query posted on the query page along with the surnames that you are researching on the surname page. Some of your "long distances cousins" may just get in touch with you sooner than you would think. Take a look at the reference page and you may find that there is a cemetery book, county history book, or any other sort of reference book imaginable that you might find invaluable. There may even be a look up volunteer willing to let you know whether your family is in the book. It is very likely that you may even be able to purchase the resource for your own personal genealogy library. The USGenWeb is a wonderful resource on the internet for genealogists. Visit a few pages and take a look.

Once you decide to come "home" to South Carolina, the place to start is at the genealogy society or historical society located in the county where your ancestors resided. One or more of your "cousins" may have already started research on your mutual family line and donated their finds to one of the local genealogy society's archives. It is also quite possible to find copies of research done on your family done by a famed South Carolina genealogist, either, Janie Revill or Leonardo Andrea, which date back 40-50 or more years. Miss Revill and Mr. Andrea passed away a number of years ago but their research lives on in legacy at many of South Carolina's genealogical societies in the forms of books, letters, transcripts of documents, and other items of importance to the genealogical researcher . You may find copies of wills, deeds, or equity papers all neatly transcribed before you even step foot in the local courthouse. Many genealogical societies in South Carolina have done cemetery books. They can't promise that they have found all of the cemeteries in their counties but they probably found most of them. Hopefully your ancestors' graves were marked with tombstones and not wooden markers which did not bear up to the weather and the years. A few societies have begun new projects for recording the unmarked graves in their counties. They are asking their members to let them know about Bible records of deaths, diary entries about burials, or simply grandmama's knowledge about where her grandmother was buried and when. They are certainly doing their part in preserving the heritage of their district and they are sharing a wealth of information with their patrons. You will probably want to join the local society in order to receive their newsletter. Most genealogical societies allow their members to post queries at no charge. Usually new members names and addresses, along with the surnames they are researching are included in the newsletter in a "new members" section. A genealogical society's newsletter goes out across the country reaching cousins in far off states. When I joined the Sumter County Genealogical Society and my name appeared in the newsletter, I heard from a double distant cousin in Texas as well as from someone right here in town. Some of the local genealogical societies in South Carolina, are affiliated with the state society. When you join, one of those particular chapters, you are also joining the state society. This entitles you to receive The Carolina Herald and Newsletter which is the official publication of the South Carolina Genealogical Society. A complete as possible listing of the genealogical and historical societies of South Carolina may be found on the internet by clicking your mouse here. Call or write to the society and ask what they have in their files on your family. Please don't expect them to do any in-depth research for you by mail or over the phone. Allow the volunteer time to see if your names are on their surname list and let him or her know that you will call them back later. They won't be able to call you back long distance. Genealogical societies are usually staffed by volunteers and their funds for operation come from dues and the sales of their publications. When writing, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your letter of inquiry.

Once you have exhausted all of the possibilities of finding more on your family at the local genealogy society, it is time to visit the local courthouse. Records of wills, estates, and marriages may be found in the office of the local probate judge. Records of land transactions are to be found in the office of Mesne Conveyances. Deeds and plats can be vital sources of tidbits of information, especially if a deed includes a release of dower rights, giving the name of a long sought maternal line. Ask once you are there, ask where the old Court of Equity papers are kept in the courthouse. In some court houses they will be in the office of Mesne Conveyances. It varies by courthouse.

Don't forget to visit the local library. Most public libraries in South Carolina have genealogical information housed in their South Carolina reference section. It is quite possible that the library may have some books and family histories holdings that the local genealogical society does not have in their archives. I am most familiar with the holdings of the Sumter County Library. Their main branch, behind the courthouse, houses printed copies of the 1850 census for Sumter District and all of the surrounding counties. The records are not transcriptions but actual copies of the microfilm pages which are indexed. It saves having to search though for your family on microfilm.

Once you decide to come "home" to South Carolina, don't be surprised at the warm welcome that you receive. Southern hospitality is alive and well here in the Palmetto State. Once a South Carolinian realizes that you are kin - then you are family. It won't matter that your great-great-great grandfathers were first cousins, twice removed. You are still going to be family. You will be welcomed, shared with other family members, and admonished to stay in touch. You will be glad that you found your roots in the Palmetto State and you will find that you are truly a Sandlapper at heart.

South Carolina, Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places. Ya'll come back home to South Carolina.

© Cynthia Ridgeway Parker, M.Ed.

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