Delaware History and Research Overview

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In 1638, two ships — the Kalmar Nyckel and the Fogel Grip — brought 30 people from Sweden to settle near present-day Wilmington, Del. They named their new home New Sweden. Ownership of the area changed several times during the 17th century. The Dutch took over the colony from the Swedish settlers, then the British captured the renamed New Netherland in 1664. The Dutch reasserted their ownership in 1673, but ended up returning the area to the British a year later. The three lower counties of the Colony — New Castle, Kent and Sussex — became part of William Penn’s Pennsylvania, while Maryland also claimed part of the region.

The residents declared their independence from both Great Britain and Pennsylvania June 15, 1776, renaming the area Delaware. On Dec. 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution.

Its central location, harbors and waterways made the state ideal for transportation systems. Steamboats carried passengers along the Delaware River, while the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal connected the two bays of the same names. In 1831, the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad connected the eastern and western parts of the state.

Early in the 19th century, the du Pont family began manufacturing gunpowder. Their success made them the wealthiest family in Delaware, and their chemical research firm one of the largest in the world. Irish and German immigrants arrived to work in chemical manufacturing, shipbuilding and agriculture. Jews, Poles, Italians and Scandinavians immigrated later in the 19th century. Major industries in the 20th century included shipbuilding, chemicals (nylon for parachutes), textile mills and gunpowder factories in the northern part of the state, with agriculture and poultry farming in the southern half.

(click to enlarge)
Delaware state map with county outlines


  • The Historical Society of Delaware collects nongovernmental records such as genealogies, manuscripts, and church records.
  • The Delaware Public Archives is the primary repository for state and local government records, including deeds, mortgages, probate records, court documents, and municipal papers
  • Be on the lookout for the land division “hundreds.” While Delaware has only three counties, it has many hundreds — akin to townships in other states — that were created for taxation purposes.


  • Federal census: 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules:1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Reconstructed state census: 1790
  • Slave schedules: 1850, 1860. Note that slave schedules generally don’t list names of slaves, only the names of slave owners.
  • Tax lists: 1700s-1915
  • Militia records: 1765-1841


  • Abstracts from the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1748-1755 by Kenneth Scott and Janet R. Clarke (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977)
  • Bibliography of Delaware Through 1960 compiled by Henry Clay Reed and Marion Bjornson Reed (University of Delaware Press, 1966)
  • Chronology and Documentary Handbook of the State of Delaware by Mary L. Frech (Oceana Publications, 1973)
  • The Colonial Clergy of Maryland, Delaware, and Georgia by Frederick Lewis Weis (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978)
  • Colonial Delaware Assemblymen, 1682-1776 by Bruce A. Bendler (Family Line Publications, 1989)
  • Colonial Delaware Records, 1681-1713 by Bruce A. Bendler (Family Line Publications, 1992)
  • Colonial Families of Delaware, 4 vols. by F. Edward Wright (Willow Bend Books, 1999)
  • Delaware Archives, 4 vols. by the Delaware Public Archives Commission (1911)
  • Delaware Church Records: A Collection of Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths, and Other Records and Tombstone Inscriptions, from 1686-1880, Five Important Religious Groups: Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Quaker compiled and indexed by Raymond B. Clark Jr. (R.B. Clark, 1986)
  • Delaware Family Histories and Genealogies compiled by Donald Ordell Virdin, edited and published by Raymond B. Clark Jr. (R.B. Clark Jr., 1984)
  • Delaware Genealogical Research Guide edited by Thomas P. Doherty (Delaware Genealogical Society, 1997)
  • Delaware Genealogical Society Surname Index, 1995 compiled by Robert Joseph Redden, Barbara Fooks Redden, and the Delaware Genealogical Society (Delaware Genealogical Society, 1995)
  • Delaware Genealogy by Jean Foight Trumbore and the Hugh M. Morris Library (1979)
  • The Delaware Historical and Genealogical Recall of Matilda Spicer Hart by Matilda Spicer Hart (Delaware Genealogical Society, 1984)
  • Delaware, a History of the First State edited by Henry Clay Reed with Marion Bjornson Reed (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1947)
  • Delaware 1782 Tax Assessment and Census by Ralph D. Nelson, et al. (Delaware Genealogical Society, 1994)
  • Delaware Trails: Some Tribal Records, 1842-1907 transcribed by Fay Louise Smith Arellano (Clearfield, 1996)
  • Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations in Delaware by the Delaware Historical Records Survey (Public Archives Commission, 1942)
  • Directory of Libraries and Information Sources in the Philadelphia Area (Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware) edited by Barbara Ann Holley for the Philadelphia Chapter Special Libraries Association (1977)
  • A Guide to Manuscripts in the Eleutherain Mills Historical Library: Supplement Containing Accessions for the Years 1966 Through 1975 by John Beverley Riggs (The Library, 1978)
  • History of Delaware, 1609-1888 by John Thomas Scharf (W.C. Cox Co., 1974)
  • History of Delaware, Past and Present edited by Wilson Lloyd Bevan; associate editor, E. Melvin Williams (Lewis Historical Publishing, 1929)
  • A History of the Original Settlements on the Delaware — & a History of Wilmington by Benjamin Ferris (Gateway Press, 1987)
  • Index to the History of Delaware, 1609-1888 by J. Thomas Scharf, edited by Gladys M. Coghlan and Dale Fields (Historical Society of Delaware, 1976)
  • Inventory of the County Archives of Delaware, no. 1, New Castle County prepared by the Delaware Historical Records Survey and the US Works Progress Administration (Public Archives Commission, 1941)
  • Old Bible Records by the Daughters of the American Revolution (Daughters of the American Revolution, 1950-1973)
  • A Preliminary Inventory of the Older Records in the Delaware Archives compiled by Joanne Mattern, Harold B. Hancock and the Delaware Bureau of Archives and Records (Bureau of Archives and Records, 1978)
  • The Records of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church, Wilmington, Del., from 1697 to 1773 translated from Swedish by Horace Burr (Historical Society of Delaware, 1890)
  • The Rise and Fall of New Sweden: Governor Johan Risingh’s Journal 1654-1655 in its Historical Context by John Claesson Rising, Hans Norman, Marie Clark Nelson and Stellan Dahlgren (Almqvist & Wiskell International, 1988)
  • Selected Delaware Bibliography and Resources compiled by Barbara S. Giles (B.S. Giles, 1990)
  • The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1638-1664, 2 vols. by Amandus Johnson (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969)
  • This is Good Country: A History of Amish Delaware, 1915-1988 by Rev. Allen B. Clark (Gordonville Print Shop, 1988)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.