South Carolina Land Records

According to Chapter 8 of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, (available within Ancestry Library Edition inside the library) as well as in print at Beaufort Branch, Bluffton Branch, and Hilton Head Island Branch:

"Perhaps no category of records is more important to the genealogist than those relating to land.... As might be expected, the systems of land granting and land tenure in these jurisdictions varied widely, and each must be studied separately."

Here's what Szucs and Luebking, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, p.280 says about South Carolina land records:

South Carolina land records created before the revolution may refer to the counties of Colleton, Craven, Berkeley, and Granville; these were nonfunctioning but useful as geographical locators. [Beaufort District was created out of Granville County]

Deeds and mortgages were recorded only at Charleston until 1769–72; and until 1785, such records from local courthouses continued to be sent to and stored in Charleston. Pre-1719 records are at the state archive in Columbia.

See Charles H. Lesser, South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663–1721 (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1995). Also see Silas Emmett Lucas, Jr., An Index to Deeds of the Province and State of South Carolina 1719–1785 and Charleston District 1785–1800 (Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1977), and Clara A. Langley, South Carolina Deed Abstracts, 1719–1772, 4 vols. (Spartanburg, S.C.: 1983). [The BDC has South Carolina Begins and Langley's multi-volume work.]

From 1785 to 1799, there were first seven and then nine “old” districts, where conveyances were stored. About 1799 these large districts were abolished and conveyances were recorded and stored at twenty-four small “new” districts. (These districts have been called counties since 1868.)

See Michael E. Stauffer, County Formation in South Carolina (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1994).

[The BDC has Stauffer in the Ready Reference section of the Research Room or you can read this article online:]

The need, until about 1769–72, to go to Charleston to record conveyances, the turmoil of the revolution from 1775 to 1783, and the loss of many “old” district records means South Carolina deeds created before 1800 are very incomplete.

South Carolina passed a bounty-land act and established a small military reserve.

See “Bounty Grants to Revolutionary Soldiers,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 7 (1906): 173–78, 217–24.

[We have the complete run of the South Carolina Historical Magazine in the Ready Reference section of the BDC Research Room. It is also available at our Hilton Head Island Branch Library].

A unique land source is the state’s Reconstruction attempt to buy land for black freedmen. Some records exist showing whites selling to the project and blacks buying.

See Carol K. Rothrock, The Promised Land; The History of the South Carolina Land Commission, 1869–1890 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969). See also “Granting of Land in Colonial South Carolina,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 77 (1976): 208–12; Robert K. Ackerman, South Carolina Colonial Land Policies (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977); David A. Means, “The Recording of Land Titles in South Carolina . . . ,” South Carolina Law Quarterly 10 (1957–58): 346–419; Marion C. Chandler and Earl W. Wade, The South Carolina Archives: A Temporary Summary Guide, 2nd ed. (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1976), 5, 8–9, 41; [a similar online source is] and Robert L. Meriwether, The Expansion of South Carolina 1729–1765 (Kingsport, Tenn.: Southern Publishers, 1940). [We have can supply most of these to our Research Room visitors.]

As you can see, just from the list of resources outlined above land records can encompass far more than just a deed to a particular piece of property. And the Beaufort District Collection provides access to most of the resources above. Obviously, it will take a person more than just a few minutes to "test" a research question against the contents of the resources.

About the Author

Grace Cordial has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library since 1999.  The Beaufort District Collection exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of our part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Besides the research room, Cordial manages the “Virtual BDC:” the BDC web pages, the Online Obituary Index, two digital collections, a new BDC.BCL Facebook page, and the Connections blog.  
Among her duties is to coordinate or present programs about local history, Gullah culture, and our coastal environment, including occasional instructional sessions about how to perform historical and/or genealogical research.