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COURTHOUSE RECORDS
Xxxx Xxxx, The Clarendon Courier, Winter 1999


New Hanover County was formed in 1729 out of Craven County. The first county seat was Brunswick Town in what is now Brunswick County. Wilmington became the county seat in 1739/40.

The first documented location of the courthouse was at the intersection of Front and Market streets. By 1786, the structure was in such bad condition that court was held in various homes, churches or taverns. Another building of the same design was rebuilt in 1797 on the same site and it burned in 1840. After the fire, the courthouse was moved to the north side of Princess Street between Second and Third streets. An addition was added in 1881. In 1892, construction of the Queen Anne red-brick courthouse on the southeast corner of Third and Princess streets was completed. A. S. Eichberg of Savannah, GA, was the architect with local resident, James F. Post, the supervising architect. By 1925, county business outgrew the building and a Neoclassical Revival annex was built on Princess Street, designed by Leslie N. Boney. About sixty years later, space again became a huge problem; therefore, in 1982, the Judicial Building was built on the comer of Fourth and Princess streets. In the 1990s, the county population began to grow at a tremendous rate and the courthouse complex became very crowded. [A new Judicial Annex building, south of the Historic Courthouse on Third Street opened in 2002.]

It is well to remember that records in the New Hanover Courthouse encompass not only the present day county, which geographically is one of the smallest in the state, but the early records of other southeastern North Carolina counties. Onslow and Baden Counties (1734),Duplin County (1750), Brunswick County (1764), part of Sampson County (1795) and Pender County (1875) were all formed from New Hanover, There are deeds, wills etc., relating to these counties in New Hanover records.

Various offices in the courthouse complex house records that are of interest to genealogists:

Register of Deeds: Everyone knows the wealth of information that can be found in deeds and vital statistics. Today, there are two sections to this office. Deeds, plats of lands and maps are on the first floor of an office in the 1925 Annex on Princess Street. Prior to ca. 1900, there are microfilms of deeds. Before then, deeds are in the original deed books. Fire has destroyed some of the earliest deeds. Parts of Deed Books A and B were destroyed and have been combined into Deed Book AB, the originals of which are in the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh. In the early deed books, wills are also recorded as well as bills of sale and powers of attorney. Records relating to slaves are often in these books. For the city of Wilmington, there is a block book, that is kept in the Registrar's office, which helps trace the deeds of lots in the city by block. It is helpful to know the block number before beginning a search. Photo copies of these early deeds are available in the office for a nominal fee.

Vital statistics: Vital statistics such as birth and death certificates are in the ground floor offices of the Historic Courthouse. These records begin in 1913, although there are a few before that date. Marriage licenses go back earlier. All of these records are listed in book indices by year and the actual records are on microfilm. There is a charge of ten cents for a printed copy of the record. It should be noted that the birth certificate index is in the office across the hall from the microfilm machines. Also located in the vital statistics section are military records. Veterans of various wars are supposed to register their discharges, etc. in the county of their residence. However, since registration is voluntary, there are some that are not recorded.

New Hanover County Registrar of Deeds Website
Online Index: Birth & Death Certificates, Marriages, Military Records

County Clerk of Superior Court: Wills and estate records are in this office in the Judicial Building. The original records are in the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh. Court ordered divisions of estates can be important, since they may list the relationships of family members to the deceased. Other court records located in this office are civil and felony litigations. Copies of these records can be made for a small fee.

County Records: All of the county records are on microfilm, copies of which are in the New Hanover County Public Library. Dating from 1739, original court minutes often detail estates and other legal matters and are located in the Department of North Carolina Archives and History in Raleigh, NC. The court minutes contain not only land transactions, but the business of the county, including the construction of public buildings, which was under the direction of the justices of the peace. The minutes list licenses for ferries, taverns and other businesses. A number of these early minutes have been abstracted and published in book form, many by the Old New Hanover Genealogical Society. The library has copies of these books.

It would be well to check both the North Carolina Room at the New Hanover County Library and the New Hanover County Courthouse when checking courthouse records.

Also see: Crockette W. Hewlett and Leora H. McEachern, Attorneys of New Hanover County, 1724-1978, (Wilmington, NC, 1979), pages 178-181; and, Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1984), page 202.


 

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