Thursday, June 16, 2011

Looking for Wills at the NC State Archives - Updated

In 2008 I wrote a post, “Looking for Wills at the NC State Archives” in which I talked about how to use the NC State Archives’ online catalog (MARS) to see if your ancestor left a will in North Carolina. Since then the Archives has totally redesigned their online catalog, so my screenshots are obsolete. I have updated them in the post below. Please feel free to leave comments or questions for help in the comment boxes below.

I consider Mitchell's "Will Index" to be my #1 resource material to researching NC families. It is a two volume printed set that sits out on the main counter at the NC State Archives. It can be searched online using the NC State Archive MARS search Engine. This is how I went about finding the last will and testament for Henry Williams in Caswell County, NC:

Go to
NC State Archives webpage

Click on the MARS
Catalog link on the left side and a new window will open. It may take a couple of minutes to completely load. You will see the main search page. I have included a screen shot below:

Because I want to look in a specific resource –the Mitchell’s Will Index – I click on the Browse Button to open the list of collections. The Mitchell’s Will Index is found under the Popular Collections Heading. Click the little plus sign beside “Popular Collections” to expand the sub-headings and then click the box beside “Mitchell Will Index” to select it. Make sure a green check box appears.

Once the Mitchell Will Index is loaded as the collection I want to search, I type in “Williams” in the main search box:

And I get the following 49 pages of results!!! – What???

If you look at the Mars ID, all results have the same first 4 digits – 5200, but different set of 2nd numbers. The first result has a 5200.1 – this is for Alamance County. The next 3 results have 5200.2 – This is for Albemarle County. They are listed alphabetically by county. The Archives uses a set of numbers for county codes. So this is good to know if you are looking for a particular county. I happen to know that Caswell County’s code is “20” and I could scroll through these results until I get to 20, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go back and use the search box again.

I can enter “Williams, Caswell.”

And then I get 5 results, one of which is my Henry Williams. And you see the county code is in fact, 20.

The MARS system is only a catalog, it is not a digital repository with digital images. But using this will tell you if your ancestor left a will in the state of North Carolina.
However, there ARE some wills written before 1776 which have been scanned with digital images accessible from this catalog. You can NOT access them from the Mitchell's Will Index though. They are accessed from the Secretary of State Record Group. (More on this later)

Double clicking on Henry Williams brings up the information for this record:

This record depicts information for this Henry Williams. The will was recorded 1786 in Caswell Co., NC. The call number and MARS Id number are not important.

What's Next? - Head to the Archives

Once you find the will date, person's name and county, you can go to the Archives and look through the will boxes. They are organized by COUNTY first, then alphabetized by last name. Before you can look through the records you have to fill out a Call Slip

The call numbers start with a 3-digit prefix assigned to the county of interest. Caswell County's 3-digit prefix is 020. 

Document Type:
Then the next 3-digits are assigned to document type. For wills, that number is always 801. 

Folder Number:
The last number of the call number is the box number that contains your ancestor's file. This last number is left blank on the call slip. 

You will put your surname on the call slip instead. They will bring you the box that contains the surname for the county of interest. For example, I might find the will of Henry Williams, 1786, Caswell County, using the following call number: 020.801.25. Box 25 containing the surname Williams.

The archivist will give you the whole box and you can only take out 1 file folder at a time. You must keep all documents inside the folder in order at all times. You can request copies be made by filling out a copy request form. Copies are $0.10 a page.

Here's some information on Estate Records at the NC State Archives in my post "A Peek into the NC State Archives: Loose Documents of Estate Records"


  1. Thank you Ginger for sharing this information. Do you know if the state library plans to make it so that a direct URL can be used to access the index rather than having to hit the Browse button and then choose it from the Popular Sources list?

  2. Hi Taneya. Great question. There used to be a direct link but now it is under the popular collections heading. I dont think they plan to move it as this is the latest redesign. I believe you can do a search for it within the collections though as long as you say Mitchell and not Mitchells with an S.

  3. Great tutorial, Ginger! This really is helpful for those who want to determine the resources at the archives before visiting. Thanks!

  4. Thanks @SavingStories, I hope it helps people out there. I've had to struggle with it myself several times and I'm still learning. And as soon as I write about it, they go and change it again!

  5. Ginger, Thanks for your posting on how to use MARS to search Mitchell's Will. We have some generic tutorials now, but this is great!

  6. Hi Druscie, you are welcome. I am working on some other posts as well about looking for land grants. However I cannot figure out a way to determine if all of the counties have been loaded into MARS yet...

  7. Hi Ginger,

    Indexing of the land grants for all counties isn't completed yet - I think we're in W right now. There's a little bit of lag time in between when we're done with data entry on our end and when you're able to see it on yours, but my guess would be that at least up to T/Tyrrell County should be available now.

    Oh and you can find the tutorials that Druscie mentioned here:


  8. Thanks Ashley! This is great news!

  9. Hi Ginger,
    Thanks for this how to - it will help those of us distant from NC. I also enjoyed reading your FF DNA results - you are having better luck on matches than I did. Can you check and see if I show up on your full results list?
    Sara Scribnr