The history of a family over many
generations lies buried in different sources and places. Like a good detective, the
genealogist must search for the pieces of a family's past in those many sources such as
books, documents, and manuscripts. The genealogist must also be patient and imaginative,
for the search can take years and involve a string of clues that lead to new sources. The
facts--names, dates, events--that a genealogist gathers through the years are like pieces
of a puzzle. Gradually those pieces can be fitted together to make a picture of a family,
its many members, and its unique history.
Delaware's rich and complex colonial
history offers genealogists a special challenge. Settled first by the Swedes in 1638,
control of the area subsequently passed to the Dutch and then to the English, who ruled
through James, Duke of York until he granted the land to William Penn in 1682. During
those years Delaware was governed from a distance, so early colonial documents might be
found in many places, including the archives of New York State and Pennsylvania, as well
as those of Sweden, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. Many of those early records have
been printed and can be found in books located in the library of The Historical Society of
Delaware. A full search would require trips to many archives.
In the 350 years since the first European
settled on Delaware's soil, thousands of people have come to Delaware. Some have remained
for many generations; others have stayed only a short time. Through much of the colonial
period, New Castle served as a major port of entry for ships from the British Isles.
Because Delaware was part of the British empire, the journey was considered to be one of
internal migration, which did not require the same type of record keeping as did
immigration from a foreign country. Thus, few passenger lists exist. Genealogists should
not expect to find information in Delaware sources for ancestors who entered through New
Castle but immediately passed on to another colony.
Another complicating factor for the study
of early Delaware ancestors concerns boundary lines. The boundaries of Delaware did not
reach their present configuration until 1760, due primarily to the long battle over
control of much of this territory waged by the Penn family of Pennsylvania and the Calvert
family of Maryland. It is always wise to check the records of both these states plus
Virginia when researching Delaware families, for although Delaware is a small state it is
part of a peninsula. Many families migrated more than once within the Delmarva Peninsula.
The small size of Delaware and its rich history provide genealogical researchers with
special opportunities. A significant number of its early records have been published or
microfilmed, while others are easily accessible in the state's major genealogical
We hope you will find some aspects of
your family's past in our collections and encourage you to visit the library. Please come
to browse the shelves, consult the library card catalogs, and ask the librarians for
Using the Library
The Delaware Historical Society collects books, manuscripts, reference files, maps,
newspapers, and photographs on all aspects of Delaware's history and people.
Books are kept on open shelves in the library reading room. The book
card catalog is indexed by author, title, and subject. Published pamphlets, rare books,
and serials are available from a librarian upon request.
Manuscript collections such as family papers, diaries, and the records
of local organizations are kept in closed storage and are available from a librarian. The
manuscript card catalog lists documents by subject as well as by the names of people and
places. Inventories are available for some large manuscript collections.
The Genealogical Surname File is a card catalog containing over
120,000 names and references.
Church and Cemetery Records and Family History Files
are located in two file cabinets.
Step 1. CONSULT HANDBOOKS ON GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH
Handbooks on genealogical research offer instruction, advice, and information useful to
both beginning and advanced genealogists. Topics covered by these books include getting
started; types of records to consult; research in other states and foreign countries; and
record keeping. Among the best "how-to" books are Timothy Field Beard's How
to Find Your Family Roots (CS15/ B368), the National Archives' Guide to
Genealogical Research in the National Archives (CS47/N27), and The Source: A
Guidebook of American Genealogy (CS46/E11). For additional titles, check in the book
catalog under the subject heading GENEALOGY-HANDBOOKS, MANUALS, ETC.
Step 2. CHECK GENEALOGICAL SURNAME CARD FILE
This card file consists of over 120,000 names. It is arranged alphabetically by surname
and contains references to births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths. These cards were
compiled over the years from newspapers printed before 1850, books, journals, church
records, and other sources.
Step 3. SEARCH FAMILY HISTORY FILES AND PUBLISHED
BIOGRAPHIES AND GENEALOGIES
The Family History Files contain unpublished notes and charts on Delaware lineages
compiled by other genealogists. These files are indexed in the Surname Card File.
Published genealogies are part of the library's book collection and are listed by
author, title, and family name in the book catalog. Books giving information on more than
one family are cross-referenced under all the important surnames.
Biographical encyclopedias, often published during the nineteenth century to flatter
prominent businessmen and politicians, contain valuable genealogical information. McCarter
and Jackson's Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware (Fl66.9/Ml2)
and J.M. Runk's Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware (Fl66.9/R94)
are useful for Delaware families. Other biographical encyclopedias can be found in the
book catalog under DELAWARE-BIOGRAPHY.
Step 4. CHECK BOOKS ON STATE AND LOCAL HISTORY
A wealth of genealogical information is contained in books on state and local history.
The best general source for Delaware is J. Thomas Scharf's History of Delaware,
1607-1888 (Fl66.9/S31), which has a separate three-volume index.
County histories, such as Harold Hancock's History of Sussex County Delaware (Fl72/S8/H234);
histories of hundreds, such as Clifford Pryor's The Forest of Appoquinimink
(Fl72/A65/P97); or town histories, such as E. Dallas Hitchens' The Milford, Delaware,
Area Before 1776 (Fl74/M7/H67), contain much useful information.
For additional titles for counties, hundreds, or towns, check the card catalog under
specific geographic names.
Step 5. SEARCH JOURNALS AND PERIODICALS
Often bits and pieces of family history can be found in articles in historical and
Articles on Delaware appear in Delaware Genealogical Society Journal
(Fl6l.l/D34j), The Maryland and Delaware Genealogist (Fl6l.l/M39), Delaware
History (Fl6l.l/D34), Delaware Historical and Genealogical Recall
(Fl6l/D343), and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine (Fl46.1/G32). A name
index often appears at the end of each volume. These are in bound volumes on the library
Step 6. RESEARCH IN ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL
A. Birth, Marriage. and Death Records
The state of Delaware did not require the official registration of births, marriages, and
deaths until 1913. Before then, information is scattered and incomplete. Possible sources
for this period before 1913 include church records, family genealogies, newspapers, and
some government records. A useful source for Delaware is the D.A.R.'s Old Bible
Some people did voluntarily file birth, marriage, and death records with the state
government before 1913. The Delaware Public Archives holds birth records until 1919,
marriage records until 1929, and death records until 1929. For later information contact
the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Division of Public Heath.
Beginning in 1850, the federal government collected Mortality Schedules during the
census years. These schedules recorded the names of people who died the previous year,
their ages, occupations, and causes of death. The library has indexes to the Delaware
Mortality Census for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 (Fl6l.6/C39/M88) as well as microfilm
copies of the original census schedules (Microfilm US-3).
The Library's manuscript collection includes the following registers of marriages:
- Brandywine Hundred Marriages, 1836-1909 (typed list, no provenance) (Brandywine Hundred
- Wilmington Marriage Register, 1856-1864 (Manuscript Books--Official)
- Marriage Licenses, 1902, Delaware--no specific location (Manuscripts Book--Official)
- Marriage License Applications, 1926-35, Middletown area (Manuscript Books--Official)
For individual marriage bonds and certificates, see the manuscript card catalog under
individual names and the subject heading MARRIAGE.
B. Church Records
Church registers are often the only way to determine birth and death dates in the years
before Delaware kept vital records. Most Delaware churches keep their own records, but the
library has a number of books, copies of church records, a few manuscript volumes of
original records, and microfilmed church records.
Check the names of individual churches or under the subject heading CHURCH
RECORDS--DELAWARE in both book and manuscript catalogs. To determine the names
and dates of churches in the state, see Frank Zebley's The Churches of Delaware
C. Census Returns
A federal census of population has been taken every ten years since 1790. As a rule, the
information gathered each decade is progressively more detailed. The schedules from 1790
through 1840 show the names of the heads of families only. The 1850 census was the first
to record each individual in a household by name. Every census from 1850 on gives age,
occupation, and place of birth for all individuals.
The library has microfilm copies of every available census for Delaware from 1800 to
1920 (the censuses of 1790 and 1890 were destroyed by fires). There is a reconstructed
1790 census for Delaware in book form. Names are arranged by address as the original
census taker recorded them, not alphabetically.
Indexes in book form are available for every census from 1800 to 1870 (Fl6l.l/C39). The
censuses of 1880, 1900 and 1920 are indexed on microfilm (Microfilm US1-1880, 1900,1920)
through a special code called Soundex. A key to the Soundex system is available in the
microfilm reading room.
D. Naturalization Papers
Immigrants to America were not required to become citizens or to register in any way until
1906. Immigrants who wished to become naturalized citizens could file a statement of
intention called "First Papers" after three years in America. "Final
Papers" granting citizenship were filed after five years, including one year in the
The Delaware Historical Society library has some original naturalization records for
New Castle County in both manuscript and microfilm. It has First Papers for 1832-1846 and
1843-1851 and Final Papers for 1829, 1843-1851, and 1851-1856 (Manuscript Books-Official).
An index for these volumes is available (Fl6l.6/N5).
In microfilm, the Society's library has First Papers 1832-1906 and Final
Papers 1798-1906 for New Castle County (Microfilm Del.-6).
E. Immigration Lists
Although thousands of immigrants came to the New World through Delaware ports, only a
handful of passenger lists survive. These lists usually give the name of the ship and date
of arrival but do not detail ages or towns of origin for passengers. The federal
government began keeping lists of immigrants in 1820, but these are often fragmentary for
the early years.
For arrivals between 1600 and 1898, check P. William Filby's Passenger and
Immigration Lists Index (CS43/F4791) and its supplements. Other books of passenger
lists can be found under the subject heading SHIPS PASSENGER LISTS in the
For references to lists published in historical and genealogical journals, see Filby's Passenger
and Immigration Lists Bibliography (CS43/F4791/B58).
F. Wills and Probate Register
Wills range from simple statements that divided property among unnamed heirs to detailed
listings of persons and property. If a person died without a will, a document called
letters of administration was granted, usually to relatives or friends, to settle the
estate. Sometimes accounts survive that show who the heirs were. Wills and administrations
do not exist for everyone. People who were literate and at least modestly well-off were
more likely to write wills than those who were illiterate and poor.
The Delaware Historical Society has some wills and administrations. To locate them,
consult the manuscript catalog under the name of the individual or the subject heading WILLS.
Delaware's wills and administrations before 1800 have been abstracted and printed in
three volumes: A Calendar of Delaware Wills, New Castle County 1682-1800 (Fl6l.6/N53/C71);
Calendar of Kent County Delaware Probate Records, 1680-1800 (FI61.6/K97/D48); and
Calendar of Sussex County Delaware Probate Records, 1680-l800 (Fl6l.6/L96/D48).
The wills abstracted in these volumes, as well as all of Delaware's surviving probated
wills since then, are in the Delaware Public Archives.
G. Cemetery Records
Tombstone inscriptions can often supply exact dates of birth and death, maiden
names of women, and family relationships. The library has copies of many cemetery lists
compiled by the WPA and the Delaware Genealogical Society in the Church and Cemetery
A microfilm copy of the Tatnall Tombstone cards (microfilm DEL,7) lists
hundreds of names arranged alphabetically for New Castle and Kent counties. The original
Tatnall Collection is at the Delaware Public Archives. For Sussex County, the library has
the Hudson Tombstone Index on microfilm. Also check under the names of individual
cemeteries or under the subject heading CEMETERIES--DELAWARE in the book
Deeds record the buying and selling of land. They contain the names of grantor
(seller) and grantee (buyer), description and location of the land, and the price.
Sometimes, the deed also includes the occupation and place of residence of buyer and
seller and a detailed title history of the property. The Delaware
Historical Society has some deeds in its Manuscript Collection. To locate them, consult the manuscript
catalog under the name of the individual or consult the deed file.
Two publications provide some help with seventeenth-century deeds. Original Land
Titles in Delaware, Commonly Known as The Duke of York Record (F167/Y61) is a
transcription of patents granted by the Duke of York between 1646 and 1679. Walter
Wharton's Land Survey Register, 1675-1679 (Fl67/M99) is a transcription of
surveys that Wharton made on the west side of the Delaware River between New Castle County
and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
The official and most complete collection of Delaware deeds is in the Delaware Public
I. City and State Directories
Directories give the name, address, and occupation of nearly every adult resident
of a community. Names are arranged alphabetically, and many volumes also include a block
directory and listings by occupation.
Wilmington City Directories (FI73.16/W74) were published in 1814, 1845, 1853, 1857, and
from 1859 to present. Delaware State Directories (FI64.1/D34), arranged by town, are
available for 1859/60, 1874/76, 1888 and 1894/95. Directories for towns on the Delmarva
Peninsula, including those in Delaware, are available for 1876/77, 1879/80, 1882, 1891,
and 1897/98 (Fl72/D5/D34).
J. Tax Records
Assessment lists contain the names of all inhabitants of an area who owe taxes. They
therefore serve as a sort of informal census that can fill the gaps between federal
censuses. Some lists contain only names, while others give information on ownership of
land, buildings, slaves, livestock, and silver.
The Delaware Historical Society has a small collection of tax assessments. Of
special interest are Reconstructed Tax Assessment Records, 1803-1804 (Microfiche
85.18); New Castle County Assessment Records, 1816-1817 (Microfiche 85.20); and U.S.
Internal Revenue Lists for Delaware, 1862-1866 (Microfilm US2). For other
assessments, check the Manuscript Catalog under the name of the place or the subject
heading TAX LISTS.
The official collection of Delaware tax assessments is in the Delaware Public Archives.
K. Military Records
In addition to showing that a person served in a certain war, military records like muster
rolls, payrolls, and discharge lists sometimes give information on age, residence, and
occupation. The Historical Society of Delaware library has military records from
pre-Revolutionary wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World
These books, available on the shelves in the reading room, are a good starting point
for research in military sources:
- Delaware Archives (Fl68/D34)- five volume compilation of documents from
pre-Revolutionary wars through War of 1812. Indexes in volumes 3 and 5.
- Index to Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives (E255/P41a)
- Revolutionary Pensioners of 1818 (E255/R45)
- W.T.R. Saffell, ed., Records of the Revolutionary War (E255/Sl2)
- Official Army Register of the Volunteer Force of the United States Army (E548/U58)
- Mark Mayo Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary (E470/B66)
- J.Thomas Scharf, History of Delaware, 1607-1888 (Fl66.9/S31) a list of Delaware
Civil War soldiers, arranged according to regiment, is in the back of Volume 1.
For additional published works, consult the book catalog under the name of the war or
Other sources are available in the Delaware
Historical Society Library on microfilm:
- Compiled Service Records of Delaware Revolutionary War Soldiers (Microfilm
- Compiled Service Records of Delaware Union Army Volunteers (Microfilm US-6)
- Civil War Records from US Provost Marshall General's Bureau and Adjutant General's
Office (Microfilm US 3.1)
The Society's Library has two special sources on World War I soldiers. One is
a series of individual questionnaires filled out by or for returning veterans. They are
indexed in the Genealogical Surname File. The questionnaires for individual soldiers may
be requested from a librarian. There is also an incomplete listing of Delawareans killed
in the war. It is stored in the Manuscript Vault-Cemeteries. Please ask a librarian for
The manuscript collection contains records from the
American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War as well as some militia units and
veterans organizations. To find them, look in the manuscript catalog under the name of the
war, military unit, commanding officer, or individual soldier.
Step 7. MAKE YOUR RESEARCH AVAILABLE TO OTHERS
The library is glad to accept gifts of published books as well as notes and charts
relating to research on Delaware families. You can help future researchers by donating
copies of your work to the library.
Step 8. RESEARCH IN OTHER LIBRARIES
Other libraries to consult for Delaware research:
|Delaware Public Archives
Hall Of Records
Dover, Delaware 19901
143 Dickinson Lane
|Wilmington Institute Free Library
Tenth and Market Streets
Wilmington, Delaware 19801
|Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
Philadelphia Regional Branch, National Archives
Ninth and Market Streets
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
Other Sources for Genealogical Research on Delaware
The Delaware Genealogical Society Home Page
Articles on Delaware Genealogy
Leon de Valinger, Jr., "Delaware" in National Genealogical Society
Quarterly, XXXXV (March 1947), pp. 1-3. Reprinted in Society of American
Genealogists, Genealogical Research Methods and Sources (1960).
Dale Fields, "Genealogical Source Material in the Historical Society of
Delaware" in The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, vol. XXVIII, No. 2
(1973), pp. 86-93.
Compendiums of American Genealogy
Charles H. Browning, ed., The American Historical Register and Monthly Gazette of
the Patriotic-Hereditary Societies of the United States (1895)
Colonial and Revolutionary Lineages of America (1965)
George Norbury MacKenzie, Colonial Families of the United States of America
National Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists, Lineage Books
Frederick A. Virkus, The Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy (1925-42)
Bibliographies P. William Filby, American and British Genealogy and Heraldry
Library of Congress, American and English Genealogies in the Library of Congress
Netti Schreiner-Yantis, Genealogical and Local History Books in Print (1981)
Genealogical Periodical Annual Index: Key to the Genealogical Literature (1974
Donald L Jacobus, Index to Genealogical Periodicals Together with "My Own
Index" (1981 reprint of 1935 and 1953 eds.)
National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, DAR Patriot Index (1966)
General Source Records
Harold Lancour, A Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists, 1538-1825: Being a Guide to
Published Lists of Early Immigrants to North America (1963)
Michael Tepper, Immigrants to the Middle Colonies: a Consolidation of Ship
Passenger Lists and Associated Data (1978)
Michael Tepper, New World Immigrants: A Consolidation of Ship Passenger Lists and
Associated Data from Periodical Literature (1980)
Delaware Source Records
Wilson Lloyd Bevan, ed., History of Delaware (1929)
D.G. Beers, Atlas of the State of Delaware (1868)
Horace Burr, trans., The Records of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church...1697-1773
Colonial Society of Pennsylvania, Records of the Court of New Castle on Delaware,
1676-1699 (1904, 1935)
Henry C. Conrad, History of the State of Delaware from the Earliest Settlement to
the Year 1907 (1908)
Leon de Valinger, Court Records of Kent County, Delaware, 1680-1705 (1959)
Raymond Walter Dill, William Martin Dill, and Elizabeth Ann Bosthic Dill, Souls in
Heaven, Names in Stone: Kent County, Delaware Cemetery Records (1989)
Maryland and Delaware Genealogist (1959 to 1990)
Public Archives Commission of Delaware, The Governor's Register, 1674-1851 (1926)
H. Clay Reed. A Bibliography of Delaware Through 1960 (1966)
H. Clay Reed, Delaware: A History of the First State (1947)
C.H.B. Turner, Some Records of Sussex County. Delaware (1909)