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The Difference Between Archives and Libraries for Genealogical Research

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Building that houses the State Archives and State Library of NC

NC Cultural Resources Building (109 E. Jones St. Raleigh, NC) houses the State Library of North Carolina and the State Archives of North Carolina


Recently, I have received many questions asking for copies of original documents in our collection, but we are not the State Archives. It is confusing to some researchers, especially beginning genealogists who may have never been to a state library or an archive facility so today I want to talk about the differences.

Archives: At its core, archives contain primary source documentation (i.e., original records). There are different kinds of archives. Some businesses have archives to store and organize their records – for example, the Coca Cola company in Atlanta, GA has an archive. Universities often have an archive within their library. Of course, most states, including North Carolina, have a state archive – these house documents created within the state by state and county governments. This is the case with the State Archives of North Carolina. The records at the State Archives of North Carolina fall under 4  main categories (this information comes from their website):

  • County records – original records created by all the various counties in the state, record types include, but are not limited to: bonds, court records, land records, estates, marriage records, tax records, and wills
  • State Agency records – These are the records created by the many state agencies that run the state government of NC, for example, the state Supreme Court, the Secretary of State, and the General Assembly are all state agencies.
  • Veteran’s Records
  • Non-Governmental Records, which include private manuscripts

Libraries: Whereas archives contain primary source documents and records, libraries house secondary source books. In the case of the Government and Heritage Library‘s Genealogical Services, we have the following material (not a comprehensive list):

  • Family history books
  • Abstracts and indexes of county, state, and federal records
  • census books and microfilm
  • county histories
  • genealogy periodicals
  • Microfilm copies of Revolutionary War records
  • Records of the Eastern Cherokee on microfilm
  • and so much more

Some states do have combined state library and state archivese, but many are separate entities. Sometimes archives and libraries work together to put primary sources online, such as the NC Family Records, which was created through a joint effort by the State Library of North Carolina and State Archives of North Carolina. When you are looking for information and know the state has an state archives and a state library, it is best to contact the archives for primary source information and to contact the library for secondary source information. Feel free to contact Genealogical Services if you need assistance. If you are looking for an original record (primary document), please do contact the State Archives of North Carolina.

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