Trace Your Family Tree at the South Carolina Archives

By:Page Ivey


If you talk with a South Carolinian for more than 10 minutes, the talk will inevitably turn to whom you know from which small town. After a few more minutes, you will find you know someone in common. Talk all afternoon and you might discover that you’re related (distantly, of course, because all first, second and third cousins always show up to the family reunions).

Sometimes, it will start with “Who are your people?”

If you don’t know the answer to that question, the folks at the So​uth Carolina Department of Archives and History can help you find out.

Even before Alex Haley wrote “Roots” and it became a television miniseries captivating millions of viewers around the world, Americans — most of us descended from immigrants — have sought to discover their ancestors. Maybe it was to join the Mayflower Society or the Daughters of the American Revolution or maybe to learn about genetic health issues.

The researchers at Archives and History can help you find documentation for family lore. I have to admit it is very cool to see the US Census Bureau report showing your grandmother as a 7-year-old in your great-grandfather’s household of five children and two adults. From there, you can go backward every 10 years until you see your great-grandfather listed as a child in his father’s household and so on until you find the immigrant from which your family descended.

For my family, it was a fairly simple task to trace my mother’s father back to a French immigrant who landed in Charleston in 1685. Most of his descendants still live right here in South Carolina.

For more complicated searches, the team at the archives has developed several useful indexes, guides and publications for genealogical research, including county probate and land records and death certificates. However, it has only been 100 years since the state required the filing of marriage licenses and birth certificates, so earlier research can be more difficult. Finding pre-Civil War materials is also difficult in about 10 counties because of losses during the war.

In the research room’s small library are also microfilm copies of many federal, state and local documents. There are also computers and wireless Internet access available.

For other families, particularly African-Americans, piecing together the puzzle of a family tree can be more challenging because the official records are often incomplete. A good resource for these records is at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the ​College of Charleston. The center collects manuscripts, documents and other materials that can be helpful.

The Archives and History research facility at 8301 Parklane Road, Columbia, is free and open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday (except from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday). There may be charges for copied materials.

For more information regarding genealogy resources at the archives, contact the research room at 803.896.6104 or fill out a geneal​ogy research​ request form.

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