South Carolina County records vary widely from county to county in both quality and quantity. Some have been carefully preserved while others have been much abused and neglected. Some South Carolina records have simply disappeared.
For genealogists doing research in South Carolina there is no effective replace for an on-site search of county courthouse records.
In the colonial period, the land around the coast was divided into parishes corresponding to the parishes of the Church of England. There were also several counties that had judicial and electoral functions.
As people settled the backcountry, judicial districts and additional counties were formed. This structure continued and grew after the Revolutionary War.
In 1800, all counties were renamed as districts. In 1868, the districts were converted back to counties.
Generally, county officers in South Carolina didn’t have much power. The state legislature more or less governed each county.
However, the Home Rule Act of 1975 changed that system. There are four possible types of government that can be used in each county, since that act was passed.
There may be just a county council, there may be a county council that is supervised by a county supervisor, the other options are a county council that elects either a county council manager or a county council administrator.
Successful research in South Carolina requires an understanding of the unique and complex development of its local government and jurisdictions. Unlike the other twelve British colonies, South Carolina did not form counties or towns during the colonial period.
List of South Carolina Counties with Burned Courthouses
The damage to courthouses greatly has a bearing on genealogists in every way.
Not only are these historic structures torn from our lifetimes, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others.
Once destroyed they’re lost forever. Although they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn too.
However, not all records were damaged or lost in some counties.
Abbeville CountyCourthouse – Fires in January and November of 1872 and January 1873 destroyed virtually all records except those of the probate and equity courts.
Allendale CountyCourthouse – The original Courthouse was burned May, 1998. Reconstruction and renovations of the Courthouse began in August, 2002.
Chesterfield County Courthouse – Records were evacuated to Columbia in February 1865, where fire destroyed them. Deed books have suffered heavy losses.
Clarendon County Courthouse – Loose probate papers were destroyed at an undetermined date; they begin in 1875. A fire also consumed the records of Clarendon County in the 1801 Sumter County Courthouse Fire.
Colleton County Courthouse – Records were evacuated to Columbia in February 1865, where fire destroyed them. Deed books have suffered heavy losses. Virtually no pre-1865 records survived.
Darlington County Courthouse – A courthouse fire on 19 March 1806, destroyed most of Darlington’s records with the exception of early probate files; this fire also destroyed the early records of Cheraw judicial district. The negligence of a local district ordinary also resulted in the subsequent destruction of a portion of loose probate papers
Georgetown County Courthouse – In 1862, Georgetown’s records were sent to Chesterfield courthouse for safekeeping. Union troops destroyed them there in March 1865
Horry County Courthouse – Federal troops vandalized courthouse offices in 1865; many loose papers and volumes of the clerk of court were destroyed. The the commissioner of equity files were destroyed. At some later date, pre-1887 General Sessions Indictments were lost as well.
Lancaster County Courthouse – Although marauding federal soldiers attempted to fire the courthouse, many records were saved; loose equity papers, however, seem to have perished. Moreover, most of Lancaster’s probate records were destroyed when Union cavalry intercepted in open country local officials who were attempting to remove the records to safety.
Lexington County Courthouse – In February 1865, advancing federal troops destroyed pre-1839 records of the clerk of court; the destruction included deeds and virtually all probate records
Orangeburg County Courthouse – Public records were removed to Columbia early in 1865; on 17 February 1865, they were burned there during Sherman’s occupation.
Richland County Courthouse – A fire during the federal occupation of Columbia in February 1865 destroyed the courthouse and most of the records in it. Most of the equity and probate records, however, had been safely removed. Records fragmented. Records of Columbia Equity Circuit District are housed in Richland County.
Sumter County Courthouse – suffered a major loss of probate records and deeds, on 27 November 1801, when fire destroyed the residence of Sumter District Clerk of Court John Horan, in Stateburg. This fire also consumed the records of Clarendon, Claremont, and Salem counties.