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Researching Southeast North Carolina History

This guide explains how to research local history at UNC Wilmington's Center for Southeast North Carolina Archives and History. The guide includes both collections and digitized content available onsite at the Center as well as materials accessible freely


This guide explains how to conduct historical research on the southeast North Carolina region, with a special focus on the collections of the Center for Southeast North Carolina Archives and History at UNC Wilmington's Randall Library. The guide also compiles digitized primary source resources that are accessible in a wide variety of databases. Many of these online resources are freely accessible to the public, but some resources may only be accessible with a paid subscription or with a UNC Wilmington affiliated login. If you are not affiliated with UNC Wilmington and need to access a university database, please contact the Center for assistance.

This guide is intended to be thorough but not exhaustive. In most cases, researchers will need to contact the Center about their topic of study in order to effect a thorough search. If you are unable to find the information you're looking for after consulting the resources in this guide, please reach out to us so that we may assist you.

Searching for CSENCAH Collections

The Center for Southeast North Carolina Archives and History (CSENCAH) at UNC Wilmington consists of the library's Special Collections, University Archives, and Government Information. To search the Center's collections, visit our website and use the search bar near the top of the page.

To search across our finding aids for archival collections, click the Finding Aids tab.

Center for Southeast NC Archives and History finding aids search

To search for published materials, such as books, serials, periodicals, and audiovisual media, click the Books, Media and More tab.

Center for Southeast NC Archives and History publications search

To search for materials that have been digitized and made available online, click the Digital Collections tab.

Center for Southeast NC Archives and History digital collections search

Important Definitions

The Center's holdings consist of both published and unpublished materials.

Published materials found in the Center's collections include monographs, periodicals, serials, and recorded media. Most of these materials are focused on the Southeast NC region, but we also have collections of publications related to literature, religion, the history of science and medicine, and other topics.

Unpublished materials are also commonly called manuscripts or archival records, and these materials are generally organized into larger groupings called collections or record groups. A collection or record group can contain a single document or tens of thousands of documents. They are organized around the creator of the materials. The creator is usually an individual, a family, an organization, or administrative unit. Because collections are not organized around subjects, researchers often need to examine multiple collections to study a subject. 

Most collections are described using finding aids. A finding aid is a description of a collection of archival material. A finding aid provides information about a collection and its creators. It also provides an outline of a collection's contents. A finding aid may include the following information: indications of a collection's size, date span, and formats (such as bound volumes, audio recordings, photographs, etc.); biographical or historical descriptions of a collection's creator; summaries of a collection's contents; and a list of a collection's contents by container (for example, by folder or box). A finding aid does not always include descriptions of individual documents.