Records for colonial Delaware are plentiful and varied. But according to the Historical Society of Delaware’s website, “Delaware’s rich and complex colonial history offers genealogists a special challenge. 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.”
The Delaware Public Archives (DPA) has documents from the Swedish colonial period, 1638 to 1655; the Dutch settlement, 1655 to 1664; the Duke of York regime, 1664 to 1682; and the Penn Proprietorship, 1682 to 1776, with the majority of their holdings dating from statehood in 1776.
Use the Archive’s online guide to the collections http://archives.delaware.gov and search the database, which is just a portion of the holdings, for types of records — not for your ancestors’ names. For example, type in “birth records 1864” to find out where your ancestor’s birth certificate may be located.
DPA has an index to marriages, births and deaths, from marriage bonds, church and Bible records, and newspapers from 1680 to the present. Statewide registration of Delaware births began in 1861, was discontinued in 1863 and resumed in 1881. Marriage records start as early as the 1700s for some towns; statewide registration began in 1847 and was generally complied with by 1913. Statewide death registration began in 1881 and was generally complied with by 1890. You can access birth records older than 72 years and marriages and deaths older than 40 years from the DPA. Look for microfilmed vital records at the Family History Library , too.
The 1790 US census was Delaware’s first, but most schedules were destroyed. You’ll find a reconstruction from tax and assessment records in Reconstructed 1790 Census of Delaware by Leon de Valinger Jr. (National Genealogical Society). Early tax records also can substitute for colonial censuses. Delaware didn’t take state censuses.
During the colonial period, Presbyterians, English Quakers, Baptists, Catholics and Methodists settled in the area. Many church records have been published. Also look for original records and indexes at various repositories including the DPA and Historical Society of Delaware (HSD).
The DPA is the primary facility for noncurrent state and local government records, such as probate records, court documents (civil, criminal, naturalization, indenture) and municipal papers (minutes, accounts, reports). The collection inventory is online at http://www.state.de.us/sos/dpa/collections/guideintro.shtml. Original deeds and mortgages from 1680 are also there, as are miscellaneous genealogical manuscripts and a large collection of grave records known as the Tatnell Tombstone collection. Staff member Russ McCabe emphasizes that the archives has a “fairly large and growing library of printed and unpublished genealogies.”
“Visit both the Historical Society of Delaware and the Delaware Public Archives,” says Constance Cooper, librarian at the HSD. The HSD is a private, nonprofit organization that collects nongovernmental records such as genealogies, manuscripts and church records. Its website http://www.hsd.org features a Guide to Research in the Delaware Historical Society Library, an online instruction manual. Cooper says “a personal visit is the best way to research your Delaware families, because staff provides an orientation to the collection as well as assistance.” One helpful on-site resource is the Genealogical Surname File, a card catalog of names and references arranged alphabetically by surname. The cards were compiled over the years from newspapers printed before 1850, books, journals, church records and other sources.
The Delaware Genealogical Society compiles information on Delaware research, including the Delaware Genealogical Research Guide, 3rd edition, by Thomas P. Doherty (Delaware Genealogical Society, 2002). Search the website http://delgensoc.org for names entered into the Delaware Families Project.
Delaware has only three counties — New Castle, Kent and Sussex — so research in the state initially appears simple. But William Penn decided to divide the colony into “hundreds” for taxation. This old English land division is explained by the Delaware Genealogical Society website as a “land division which is smaller than a county or shire and larger than a tithing. It comprises 10 tithings of 10 freeholder families each, or 100 families.” Hundreds are roughly equivalent to townships in other states. Once used as judicial and legislative districts, they remain now only as the basis for property tax assessment.
- The 1693 Census of the Swedes on the Delaware by Peter Stebbins Craig (SAG Publications, 1993)
- Delaware 1782 Tax Assessment and Census by Ralph D. Nelson (Delaware Genealogical Society, 1994)
- The First Tax List for the Province of Pennsylvania and the Three Lower Counties, 1693 by Adams Apple Press (The Press, 1994)
- Index to the 1850 Census of Delaware by Virginia L. Olmstead (Genealogical Publishing, 1977)
- Reconstructed 1790 Census of Delaware by Leon Devalinger Jr. (National Genealogical Society, 1962)
- The Reconstructed Delaware Census of 1782 by Harold B. Hancock (Delaware Genealogical Society, 1973)
- Copies of Lists of Passengers Arriving at Miscellaneous Ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and at Ports on the Great Lakes, 1820-1873 by the US Bureau of Customs (National Archives, 1964)
- Philadelphia Naturalization Records: An Index to Records of Aliens’ Declarations of Intention and/or Oaths of Allegiance, 1789-1880, in United States Circuit Court, United States District Court, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Quarter Sessions Court, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia edited by P. William Filby (Gale Research Co., 1982)
- Ship Passenger Lists: Pennsylvania and Delaware (1641-1825) edited and indexed by Carl Boyer (Boyer, 1980)
- Delaware’s Fugitive Records: An Inventory of the Official Land Grant Records Relating to the Present State of Delaware by the Delaware Bureau of Archives and Records (Department of State, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, 1980)
- Original Land Titles in Delaware, Commonly Known as the Duke of York Record (Family Line Publications, 1988)
- Warrants and Surveys of the Province of Pennsylvania Including the Three Lower Counties, 1759 compiled by Allen Weinberg and Thomas E. Slattery, under the direction of Charles E. Hughes, Jr. (Department of Records, 1965)
- Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia edited and compiled by John H. Long (Charles Scribner and Sons, Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1995)
- Atlas of the State of Delaware by Daniel G. Beers (Pomery & Beers, 1868)
- Delaware Geographic Names: Alphabetical Finding List (US Geological Survey Topographic Division, 1981)
- Delaware Place Names by L.W. Heck (US Government Printing Office, 1966)
- A Gazetteer of Maryland and Delaware by Henry Gannett and the US Geological Survey (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976)
- Maryland, Delaware Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme Mapping, 1993)
- The National Gazetteer of the United States of America: Delaware, 1983 by the US Geological Survey and the US Board on Geographic Names (US Government Printing Office, 1984)
- A Postal History of Delaware by Harvey Cochran Bounds (Printed by Press of Kells, 1938)
- The Postal History of Maryland, the Delmarva Peninsula, and the District of Columbia: The Post Offices and First Postmasters From 1775 to 1984 by Chester M. Smith Jr., and John L. Kay (The Depot, 1984)
- Colonial Delaware Soldiers and Sailors, 1638-1776 by Henry C. Peden Jr. (Family Line Publications, 1995)
- Delaware Archives, 5 vols. by the Delaware Public Archives Commission (1911)
- Delaware, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 by the US Selective Service System (National Archives, 1987-1988)
- Delaware’s Role in World War II by William H. Conner and Leon deValinger Jr. (Delaware Heritage Press, 2003)
- Index to Revolutionary War Service Records, 4 vols., transcribed by Virgil D. White (National Historical Publishing Company, 1995)
- Revolutionary Patriots of Delaware, 1775-1783 by Henry C. Peden Jr. (Family Line Publications, 1996)
- A Calender of Delaware Wills, New Castle County, 1682-1800 abstracted and compiled by the Historical Research Committee of the Colonial Dames of Delaware (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969)
- Calender of Sussex County, Delaware, Probate Records, 1680-1800 by the Delaware Public Archives Commission (1964)
- Colonial Delaware Wills and Estates to 1800: An Index by Donald O. Virdin (Heritage Books, 1994)
- Court Records of Kent County, Delaware, 1680-1705 edited by Leon deValinger Jr. (American Historical Association, 1959)
- Delaware Papers, 2 vols. edited and translated by Charles T. Gehring, Edmund Bailey Callaghan, and the Holland Society of New York (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977-1981)
- Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York procured in Holland, England and France by John Romeyn Brodhead, edited by E.B. O’Callaghan (Weed, Parsons Printers, 1853-87)
- The First Laws of the State of Delaware by John D. Cushing (Michael Glazier, Inc., 1981)
- Delaware Marriages and Deaths From the Delaware Gazette, 1875-1879 edited by Mary Fallon Richards and John C. Richards (Willow Bend Books, 2000)
- Delaware Tombstone Inscriptions: 700 Revolutionary Soldiers in Three Counties; 600 in Small Church & Family Cemeteries, Chiefly in Sussex County compiled and edited by Raymond B. Clark Jr. (R.B. Clark, 1989)
- Souls in Heaven, Names in Stone: Kent County, Delaware, Cemetery Records, 2 vols. by Raymond Walter Dill, William Martin Dill and Elizabeth Ann Bostick Dill (Gateway Press, 1989)