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1. Collections

Collection Overview

This website is made up of over 35 collections of material from the State Archives and State Library. You can search all the collections at once, or you can search within one particular collection.

Types of collections:

  1. Some of our collections include one particular type of item, such as the 1901 Confederate Pension Applications, which includes over 35,000 pension applications from North Carolina Civil War veterans and their widows.
  2. Other collections are based on a topic, and the collection includes a sample of items on the topic from across the Archives and Library. These collections are good starting points to familiarize yourself with the topic, and other material relevant to the topic may be found across the other 35+ collections. An example of this sort of topic-based collection would be the Civil Rights collection, which includes about 100 items relating to the state's Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1970s. Other collections also have material related to the Civil Rights movement, including State Publications, African American Education, and Our State.

You can access the full list of collections from the main menu. Here, collections are listed in alphabetical order, and featured and new collections are listed as well. These links will take you to a web page or a website about the collection.

The home page also has a full list of collections. You can start exploring a collection one of two ways:

  • click the collection's "Browse all items" button to be taken directly to the database of items in that collection.
  • or, click "About this collection" to view the web page or website about the collection. From there, you can begin your search for items in the collection.

Genealogy collections - Which are the best collections for doing genealogical research?

The North Carolina Digital Collections has over 30 different collections (see them all on the Site Map). Several of these are especially likely to be helpful for genealogical research, including:

There are also many more historical collections in which the names of ancestors may appear:

We also suggest performing searches across all collections. Although you are likely to turn up many non-relevant results, you may find what you are looking for in an unexpected place.

2. Browsing

Browse by Place

You can use this site to explore material about a specific river, landmark, town, city, county, state, or country. On the Explore page, go to the section titled "Place." Places are divided into three categories:

  1. North Carolina Places - locations within North Carolina. If the place name is no longer in use, it will be marked as (historical). Place names follow the pattern City, County. All places are alphabetical (not organized by county).
  2. US Places (outside North Carolina) - locations outside North Carolina but within the United States. Includes other states, as well as counties and towns within those states. Place names follow the pattern City, County, State. All places are alphabetical (nor organized by state).
  3. International Places - locations outside the United States. Place names are organized by country (e.g., France) or by region (e.g., West Indies), and all places are organized by country/region.

Browse by Time Period

From the Explore page, you can browse materials from North Carolina's precolonial period, antebellum period, depression and WII era, and several other time periods. In total, there are twelve time periods, aligned to time periods used at LEARN NC:

  • (pre-1600) Precolonial period
  • (1600-1763) Colonial period
  • (1763-1789) American Revolution
  • (1789-1820) North Carolina's early statehood
  • (1820-1860) Antebellum
  • (1860-1876) Civil War and Reconstruction
  • (1876-1900) Gilded Age
  • (1900-1929) NC's industrial revolution and WWI
  • (1929-1945) Depression and WWII
  • (1945-1989) Post War/Cold War period
  • (1954-1971) Civil Rights era
  • (1990-current) Contemporary

Browse by Format

The North Carolina Digital Collections has everything from Bible records and census records to photographs and military records. You can browse items by format by going to the Explore page and looking for the list of linked formats under "Format."

3. Searching

Simple Search

You can perform simple searches from the homepage and from within this site's searchable database. Simply enter your search term, and the database will look across everything we have.

Searches in all fields (title, description, creator, subjects, full text, etc.) in all collections for christmas and cards.

To start another simple search from scratch, be sure to select the "new search" option from the dropdown menu. Then click Search to start the search:

Advanced Search

You can also create detailed searches with filters using the site's advanced search feature. On the home page or in the database, click "Advanced Search" next to the simple search box. The Advanced Search menu will appear as a dropdown.

Advanced search includes several options to construct your search:

  1. The first dropdown menu allows you to select one of three options:
    • All of the words - All of the search terms must appear in the search results, but they may appear in any order and they may not be next to one another.
    • Any of the words - Any one or more of the search terms must appear in the search results, in any order and not necessarily next to one another.
    • The exact phrase - All of the corresponding search terms must appear in this exact order in the search results. Use this option instead of putting your search term in quotes.
    • All of the words - Use this option to exclude any items containing certain words. This search option requires that you also search for at least one other term that is in the item.
  2. Enter your search term(s) in the second box. Don't use quotation marks, and you don't need to use commas to separate terms.
  3. Be default, the site will look for your term across all fields, including the full text of documents. If you'd like, you can specify that you only want to see items where your search term is in a specific field (for example,the Title field).
  4. The fourth box is a dropdown useful when you are combining more than one line of search terms. Here, you have just two options: and and or. Click Add a field to add another search line.
  5. If you would like to limit your search to a specific collection (read more about collections here), you can do so by clicking "Add or remove collections." A popup window will appear where you can select collections.
  6. You can also search by date. In the Search by date, you can search within a date range, for any dates after a certain point, for dates before a certain point, or for a specific date.

Example advanced searches:

Searches in the title field in all collections for "bible record"

Searches in the title field in the 1901 Confederate Pension Applications collection for smith or smyth or smythe.

Search Everything - Can I search across all collections?

Yes! This site, the North Carolina Digital Collections, has over 30 different collections. You can search across all of the collections, a few of the collections, or within just one collection. You can add or remove collections to your search in the Advanced Search area, or at the top left of the database where it says "Add or remove other collections to your search".


Using an asterisk (*) at the end of a search term will search for all terms that start with that search term.

For example, John* will look for John, Johnson, Johnston, Johnstone, and so on.


Punctuation marks (like dashes, commas, and periods) are searched the same as letters and number.

For example, well-known will find different results than well known.

Search by Name

Search by Date

Results of date searches may surprise you! Why? Because "Date" may refer to either:
(1) when material was published/created, or (2)the time period described by the material.

In the Advanced Search area, you can search by date. Use the drop-down list to specify a date range, or to search after, before, or on a particular date. Entering a 4-digit year (YYYY) is required to perform a search. You can also search by month and day.

Search with Google

Google may not include all items from the Digital Collections. New items, in particular, may not have been discovered by Google yet.

You can also search our collections using Google. Enter your search term into the Google search bar, followed by:

TIP! Copy and paste this exact text onto the end of your Google searches:

Google is especially good to use if you know only the approximate spelling or wording of your search term, because it can help correct spelling mistakes or predict similar search words.

Google is also good when you are searching for a term or phrase that you expect to appear in the full text of documents. Google shows snippets of text, which can give you a clue about where your search terms show up in documents.

For example, imagine that you were looking for information about the creation of North Carolina's Administrative Office of the Courts. In the search below, for "hereby established" and "Administrative Office of the Courts", you can see that the first result has information about the creation of the new state office. After clicking on the document, you'll need to perform a full text search to find the page or issue that contains this text.

How do I search for words within the full text of a document?

Most items with text are full text searchable, but some are not. Handwritten documents, for example, are not always full text searchable.
Finding items that have your text.

You can look for all documents that contain specific words by entering your search terms in the simple search box or the advanced search box. By default, the search box searches for your text within the descriptions of all 90,000+ items in the collection and within the full text of all items for which full text searching is available.

Finding where your text is within a single item.

Once you have found the item you are interested in, you will next need to find where your term appears in the item. There are four ways to do this:

  1. Click the "Text Search..." button above the viewing pane and enter your search term. Results will appear in the Thumbnails/Content pane on the right, but search terms will not be highlighted in the document itself.

  2. If a "Download" button is available, download the file and search using Adobe Reader. Search terms will be highlighted in the document.

  3. Depending on on whether you are using Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, or another browser, there may be a search box within the PDF that highlights the search terms in the document.

  4. Click "View PDF & Text" button to the top right of the viewing pane. You will be taken to a new page with the full text on the left, and the page on the right. Note: This method may be very slow, depending on the size of the document.