Monday, May 6, 2013

Identifying Land Grants Using the NC State Archives’ online MARS Catalog

In 1795, Nathan Godwin, Dred Godwin, and Rachel Godwin sold 46 acres of land in Sampson County, North Carolina to John Dormond for seven pounds. The land was located “on the east side of the Little Cohara and on the Mill branch.” Although I searched high and low, I could not find any deed records in which Nathan, Dred, or Rachel Godwin were grantees, having purchased this 46 acres of land from someone else.

In North Carolina, much of the land that came into the hands of the settlers up until the end of the 18th century (and even well into the 19th century) was purchased NOT from existing owners, but from the State of North Carolina (1777-1959). Prior to the Revolutionary War, settlers purchased land from the Lord Proprietors (1663-1729), including Lord Granville, and the Crown (1729-1776). Records relating to these land purchases are kind of confusing, so it is important to know what time period and approximate location your ancestor might have purchased land.

If you have an ancestor, or ancestors, like mine above, who came into land with no story behind how it came into their hands, then chances are they may have been involved in a land grant purchase.  All land grants issued by the Crown, the Lord Proprietors, and the State came from the Secretary of State’s office. Those issued by Lord Granville were issued by the Granville Office. Records from both offices are indexed by the North Carolina State Archives and are accessible online via their MARS online catalog. Navigating the online catalog can be a bit tricky, so follow these steps below for a sure success.

Navigate to the new North Carolina State Archives Homepage and click on the "For the Public" Link at the top: (Click on each photo to make them bigger).

North Carolina State Archives Website

Then click on the "Online Catalog and Finding Aids" Link on the left side of the page: 

North Carolina State Archives MARS Online Catalog

Then click on the MARS online catalog link to access the catalog:

North Carolina State Archives MARS Online Catalog

Once you have the MARS online search open, type in your ancestor’s name into the search box, then where it says "Class, Collection, Series" click on the “Browse” button. I have typed in "Nathan Godwin" in the search box . 

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog Search

When you click the “Browse” button, a list of all of the indexed collections appear with subcollections hidden within the “+” signs. Scroll down to the bottom and click the “+” sign next to “State Records.”

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog State Records

Then click the “+” sign beside “Governor's Papers – Jonathan Worth (18 November 1802 – 5 September 1869) … University of North Carolina Board.” Then scroll down and check the box beside "Secretary of State Record Group."  All land grants, including the Lord Granville Grants, are now indexed within the State Record Group collection. All results will include those for the Granville Grants, which usually occurred before the Granville Land office closed in 1763.

Once you have selected the State Record Group collection, click the "done" link at the top left-hand side of the page. 

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog Secretary of State records

This will take you back to the search page. Now you can click the SEARCH button. 

I got 12 results for searching on Nathan Godwin in the Secretary of State Records.

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog Nathan Godwin

Looking on the right-hand side you will see the Call Number, whether there is a digital image available for download[1], and the years involved. In the middle of the page, you will see the name and the file number associated with the name. This file number is required if you visit the Archives and you want to find the land grant in the microfilm. This collection is contained on microfilm and is organized by county first and then by file number.

Clicking on a title in the search results brings up a brief summary of the item.

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog Nathan Godwin

Things to note are the County at the top, the person’s name, and the geographical names which are usually included in the description at the bottom and used for indexing purposes. At the bottom, we see the actual details of the land grant. In this example, Nathan Godwin applied for 150 acres between Black Mingo and Chokeberry Pond which was entered on February 6th, 1793. The land was surveyed, found to be vacant, and returned to the Secretary of State’s Office and subsequently granted to Nathan Godwin on December 17th, 1794, almost two years later. This grant (number 429) was copied into the Patent Book Number 86, page 311.

I checked the descriptions of all 11 of these land grants, but none of them mentioned the 46 acres on the Cohera River that was mentioned in the grant at the beginning of this post. I also did a search for Rachel and Dred (Netheldred/Etheldred) Godwin but found nothing.

I then changed my search criteria from “Nathan Godwin” to “Godwin, Cohera” to see if another Godwin had received a land grant on the Cohera River. But again, I got 0 results. Changing it to “Godwin, Coharie” gave me several results.

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog Godwin and Coharie

I clicked on Jonathan Godwin and found that he had received a land grant for 46 acres on the “East side of the Little Cohera [Little Coharie Creek] and on the Mile Branch.” This sounded exactly like the same land that Nathan, Rachel, and Dred were selling in 1795 to John Dormond – it was the same 46 acres (an odd amount for that time period) and it was on the “East side of the Little Cohera and the Mill branch.” Only the Mill / Mile branch description was a little off.

NC State Archives MARS Online Catalog Jonathan Godwin

Doing a little bit more research, I learned that Rachel Godwin became the widow of Jonathan Godwin in 1791. I also learned that in 1788, Jonathan Godwin received another patent for 47 acres of land on the East side of Black Mingo and the North Side of Beaverdam Swamp. In 1801, Nathan Godwin sold land with this same exact description to Elizabeth Bagley. Since there are no deeds from Jonathan to Nathan Godwin, or from Jonathan to Rachel Godwin, it is possible that Nathan received the land through inheritance.

This is just one example of how land grants can be very useful in genealogical research. I find them to be a very good starting point, especially if you are trying to track parcels of land through several hands. We are fortunate that our land grants are indexed through the North Carolina State Archives’ website. If you visit their onsite location in Raleigh, you can use the card catalog which is organized first by surname, then by county – that is the county they lived in at the time the land grant was issued.

What about the terminology?
I get a lot of questions about the terminology involved in the Land Grant process. In case you were wondering yourself, here is a brief synopsis of how the Land Grant Process worked in North Carolina:

  1. ENTRY:  This is an application that a person filled out to apply for a PATENT to occupy and purchase vacant land
  2. WARRANT:  This is issued once the ENTRY is approved, telling the county surveyor to measure the tract of land
  3. PLAT:  This is drawn up by the surveyor describing the land in metes and bounds
  4. PATENT:  This is the final document written by the Secretary of State conveying the surveyed land to the applicant. Also known as a Land GRANT

You may be wondering why this is called a Land “Grant” Process but the end product is a “Patent.”  This is because it is a process involving the transfer of vacant land from a granting body to a private person.  

Have you checked out your land grants yet? If so, please share your experiences in a comment below, or feel free to email me.

For more information on using the North Carolina State Archives online catalog (MARS), check out their YouTube videos here

[1] At this time, the only digital items that I know of in MARS are the colonial wills. The colonial wills (written before 1776) were filed with the Secretary of State’s office. Wills written after the Revolutionary War were filed with the county. Digital images require the user to download a proprietary viewer called “deja-vu” in order to view the images.  

To Cite This Post:
Ginger R. Smith, "Identifying Land Grants Using the NC State Archives’ online MARS CatalogGenealogy By Ginger, 06 May 2013, ( : accessed [date])