Genealogical Research in South Carolina

Lesson 3: Research in the Holy City of Charleston

"Charleston is one of the finest of American cities; Philadelphia excepted, it is inferior to none, and I know not whether from its vastly more cheerful and pleasing plan, it may not deserve first place."
Travels in the Confederation, 1783-1784 Johann David Schoepf

Charleston founded in 1670, is a port city, steeped in history with gracious charm and beauty that belie an unyielding strength which over the centuries has withstood the ravages of wars, earthquakes, fires, pirates, and hurricanes. So many churches may be found along the streets of Charleston that the city has been given the nickname The Holy City. Home of the first and oldest museum in the United States, Charleston has endeavored to preserve its history. When planning a genealogical research trip to Charleston, the researcher must be sure to include time for visiting the city as well as for research. Among the many stories that Charlestonians have been known to tell about themselves is one in which a wealthy matron was asked, "Why don't you use some of your money for traveling, for seeing the world." The old lady replied, 'But my dear, why should I travel, when I'm already here?" Charleston is a place that you might not want to leave. It is most certainly a place to which you will wish to return.

Three societies in Charleston, The Charleston Library Society, The South Carolina Historical Society, and the Huguenot Society of South Carolina have collected a number of printed and manuscript records which originated within private and governmental organizations and surprisingly there is very little duplication in their holdings. Their collections are concentrated mainly on the Low Country of South Carolina and on the early period of the state but many of the family papers pertain to families from other locals within South Carolina. One must remember that until 1781, and in some cases a few years later, all of the probate records for South Carolina were recorded in Charleston.

The Charleson Library Society

The Charleston Library Society was founded in 1748 and is the third oldest proprietary library in the United States. It has continued its function as a private subscription library. It is quite well-known for an extensive collection of microfilm, early newspapers, Charleston directories, 1782 to date and frequently used by family researchers are the registers of St. Phillip's Parish. Reading privileges are open to researchers at a per week or per month rate. Located at 164 King Street, the library is open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 - 6:00 p.m. but closes at 2:00 p.m. during the summer months of June, July, and August. The library is also closed during holidays and hurricanes. Hours of operation are subject to change without notices, so call to confirm hours of operation before you make your visit.

The Charleston Library Society

164 King Street

Charleston, South Carolina 29401


The Charleston Library Society by seventeen young gentlemen of various trades and professions, who wished to avail themselves of the latest publications from Great Britain. One of their stated aims was to establish a school so "their children would not grow up as savages." This aim was later realized with the founding of the College of Charleston in 1785. In 1773 the accumulation of natural history artifacts by the Society provided the nucleus of the oldest museum in America, the Charleston Museum.

The Library was kept in the homes of the elected librarians until 1792 when it was housed on the upper floor of the Statehouse. In 1835 the building at the corner of Church and Broad Street was purchased and the Society occupied it for seventy-nine years. "Brick" memberships were sold for this purchase and several Charleston families still hold and use these memberships.

During the war years of 1861-1865, part of the collection was sent to the South Carolina state capitol of Columbia for safe keeping. When the collection was returned to the lowcountry, the Apprentice's Library, in need of a building, was merged with the Charleston Library Society. An interesting regulation resulting from that merger is still in effect. It provides that each adult member may give a free minor membership to any person under twenty-one years of age. In 1900 the famous South Carolina Jockey Club was disbanded and the funds from the sale of the Washington Race Course were turned over to the Society. The present book fund of the Charleston Library Society is still designated - The Jockey Club Fund. The present building was built and occupied in 1914.

The library is a full service library and serves researchers from all over the world in person and by correspondence, utilizing the noteworthy collections of Ross, Hinson, Legare, Courtenay, Frost, Timrod, etc. These collections include rare books, periodicals, manuscripts, clippings, maps, directories, and almanacs dealing with Caroliniana, Charlestoniana and the South. One of the most used sources are the original newspapers beginning in 1732. Membership subscriptions are available for an annual fee. The Charleston Library Society is a subscription library and receives no tax support. Memberships are billed annually according to the month joined.

Fees are as Follows:

College Membership - Free.

College of Charleston faculty have full membership rights.

Minor Juvenile Membership - $3/year.

One free minor membership (good until age 21) is included with each adult

membership. Additional minor memberships are good until age 18.

Junior Juvenile Membership - $10/year.

Junior Memberships are available for those under age 18 whose parents are not


Student Membership - $15/year.

Any college student with a valid ID (no age restriction). College of Charleston

students have free research privileges but must have a student or adult membership to check out books.

Adult Membership - $35/year.

These are family memberships and include one free minor membership each.

Group Membership - $50/year.

Organizations may purchase group memberships. Employees who will be using the membership should be designated. Privileges are the same as those for the adult membership.

Research Membership - $3/day, $10/two weeks, $15/month.

Sustaining Membership - $250/year.

Life Memberships - $500/life.

The South Carolina Historical Society

The South Carolina Historical Society at 100 Meeting Street was founded in 1855. In 1856, the descendants of Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress, donated his papers to The South Carolina Historical Society. Following that gift, many other South Carolina families have followed their example. In fact, hundreds of families have donated their papers to the society. The Society holds the "writings of governors, generals, poets, farmers, and merchants; the letters and diaries of women, soldiers, and travelers; the research of historians and genealogists and the records of plantations and churches." The mission of the South Carolina Historical Society is "to collect information respecting every portion of our state, to preserve it, and when deemed advisable, publish it."

In 1856 the South Carolina Historical Society began to publish material on South Carolina history. Five volumes were published prior to 1900. In 1900, the first issue of the Society's South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine was published. The name was later shortened to South Carolina Historical Magazine and became the only scholarly periodical devoted to South Carolina history but it still retains its interest for genealogists. During the 1980s a new publication, Caralogue began to be published quarterly. This magazine offers up South Carolina history, genealogical information, society news, photographs, and more. The South Carolina Historical Society has published almost 100 volumes which include "interpretive articles, edited original documents, book reviews, genealogies, and manuscript reprints from its own and other institutional collections."

Research priviledges are free to members.

South Carolina Historical Society
100 Meeting Street
Charleston, South Carolina 29401
(803) 723-325

Visit the historical and genealogical directory of the South Carolina Historical Society on the internet. The site is maintained by Peter Wilkerson.

The Huguenot Society of South Carolina

The Huguenot Society of South Carolina a small, private, independent institution , established in 1885, is dedicated to the preservation of the history and genealogy of the members of the Protestant Reformation which took place in France during the 16th century. The origin and history of the French Huguenots is a fascinating and compelling account of Protestant religious persecution . The Society maintains a library offering resources for historical research and the tracing of Huguenot ancestry. A qualified librarian/archivist, genealogist and registrar are available to offer assistance to researchers. Members of the Society as well as the public are invited to use the library. A minimal fee of $5 per day is charged for use of the library by non-members.
The Society offers historical and genealogical research for people interested in searching for their Huguenot ancestors. TheSociety's staff is happy to assist researchers in any way that they can.

Special gift items are available at the Society. The Huguenot Cross, chosen as their symbol of faith, has been recreated by skilled designers in limited edition jewelry, silk neckties, tie tacs and lapel pins. The Huguenot cross has eight points which stand for the Beatitudes from the Book of Matthew in the New Testament Between each arm of the cross is a fleur-de-lis or lily, representing purity. The presence of the Holy Spirit is symbolized in the farm of a dove. Each year, the Society commissions the design of a "symbol of faith" Christmas ornament, issued exclusively by The Charleston Mint. A history book, The French Huguenots: Anatomy of Courage by Janet Gray and The Transactions, the Society's annual publication of historical and genealogical news are also available.
In France, the Protestant Reformation began during the 16th century. French citizens, disgruntled with the political domination of the Catholic church and desiring a more democratic religious affiliation, were greatly influenced by the writings of the German monk Martin Luther and later by the ideas of John Calvin, a French theologian. The Huguenots carried a token called a méreau which distinguished them from unbelievers who might try to infiltrate their secret meetings. The méreau resembled a coin. One side displayed the image of a shepherd and his flock. while on the other, a sun shone upon the pages of an open testament. In defiance of Catholicism and the monarchy, the French dissenters began holding meetings in secret. The exact origin of the name "Huguenot" is unknown. It appears to be a combination of a Flemish and a German word. Protestants who met to study the Bible in secret were called Huis Genooten, or "house fellows." They were also referred to as Eid Genossen, or "oath fellows," meaning persons bound by an oath. Persecution of the Huguenots by the Catholic church was extreme and unrelenting. In 1535, an edict was published which ordered the extermination of the Protestant heretics. During the following 63 years, Huguenots were systematically tortured and executed. A group of 1500 refugees, one of whom was John Calvin, fled the persecution and established the French Protestant Church in Strasbourg. On April 30,1598, King Henry IV of France, issued the Edict of Nantes. granting the Huguenots religious and political freedom. The edict was later revoked under the rule of King Louis XIV. Deprived of civil and religious liberty. the Huguenots began leaving France by the thousands. They settled in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Britain and the religiously tolerant new American Colonies. Many Huguenots found their way to Charleston. South Carolina. They built plantations. established churches. and became highly successful in the rural industries of rice, indigo. cotton and silk. The Huguenot Church in Charleston is the only active Huguenot congregation in the United States today. It is not officially connected with the Huguenot Society but every year, a special service is conducted in French, commemorating The Edict of Nantes. The church is located on the corner of Queen and Church Streets.
The Huguenot Society is open Monday through Friday except Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, the last two weeks in December, New Year's Day, Easter and the Fourth of July. Library hours are from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
The Society is located at 138 Logan Street, on the corner of Logan and West Streets, behind the Canterbury House. Public parking is available in front of the Canterbury House. For additional information call the Huguenot Society at 803-723-3235. The fax number is 843-853-8476.

Research services are available by mail. The charges cover searching for ONE INDIVIDUAL ONLY. If you choose to do research by mail, contact the society for a form and price list and return it with your check (made payable to The Huguenot Society of South Carolina). Please note that members of the Society receive a 10% discount. Please keep in mind that even an exhaustive search may not turn up the information that you are seeking. Many records have been lost forever, others are housed elsewhere, and there is not guarantee that a search will be productive. The Huguenot Society of South Carolina's holdings pertain primarily to the State of South Carolina and the countries of France and England, but they do have some sources available for North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, New York, and Pennsylvania. Please remember that these limited searches may take time, but usually can be completed within one month.

Please address genealogical and research correspondence to:

Melissa Wyndham Ballentine - Archivist

The Huguenot Society of South Carolina

138 Logan Street

Charleston, SC 29401-1941

Parking and Lunch

Parking is at a premium in Charleston. I suggest that when you find a place to park, probably in one of the all day lots, that you leave your vehicle there and walk to your destinations. There are dozens of cafes and resturants in and around the Market area and along Meeting and King Streets. The bill of fare will range from hamburgers to Low Country seafood. I recommend the seafood. Try some low country red rice with it. Remember the three things that South Carolinians have in common with the Chinese. We drink tea, eat rice every day, and worship our ancestors. Come to Charleston and see the place where our history began. The place where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet to form the Atlantic Ocean. Once again you will be glad that you found your roots in the Palmetto State. You will enjoy your visit to the Holy City of Charleston.

To be continued

Last entry, December 13, 1998

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

© Cynthia Ridgeway Parker, M.Ed.

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