North Carolina State Archives Postal History Project

Postal History Database and MARS
Instructions for Searching Postal History in MARS


On July 1, 1997, the North Carolina Postal History Commission was created within the Department of Cultural Resources by Section 30.5, Chapter 143 of the General Statutes, Senate Bill 352, page 419. The purpose of the commission was to advise the Secretary of Cultural Resources on the collection, preservation, cataloging, publication and exhibition of North Carolina Postal History. The commission remained in service until until June 30, 2000. An introduction to North Carolina postal history can be found in an article by Vernon S. Stroupe titled Postal History - The Basics (pdf format) from the Final Report of the North Carolina Postal History Commission.

Sixteen members were appointed to the commission. Representative Michael P. Decker, Sr. was elected chairman and Richard F. Winter as vice-chairman. Of the sixteen members of the commission, nine were active in the North Carolina Postal History Society, and formed the technical backbone of the commission. The commission formed committees to address questions of exhibition, standards, and publicity as they related to postal history. The standards committee was later modified to an archival collections committee after preparing recommendations for the North Carolina Archives on standards. The exhibit committee, with the help and cooperation of the North Carolina Museum of History, identified and secured postal history material from the North Carolina Archives and from individuals. This material was organized and formed into an exhibit which opened in the North Carolina Museum of History an July 22, 1999. The exhibit ran until October 31, 1999. The exhibit material and frames were removed to be prepared for a state-wide travelling exhibit.

Figure A - ladys envelop with manuscript postmark
Figure A. August 4, 1851, Jonesville, North Carolina (Yadkin County) to the Recording Scribe, Division of the Sons of Temperance, Wilkesboro, lady's envelop with manuscript postmark and 5¢ postage due.

The archival collections committee began two efforts that were later combined into one major project. This was a project to catalog postal history material in the North Carolina State Archives. The work started by examining and cataloging about 17 cartons of accumulated material that had been considered not suitable to be placed in existing collections. This material consisted primarily of discarded envelopes of 19th and 20th century letters to various county and state offices. A new collection was formed at the archives from this newly cataloged material titled the Postal History Collection. It was organized chronologically by post office within each of the 100 North Carolina counties. The postal history project later progressed into a much larger project, that of examining other collections at the archives for postal history material and documenting where this material could be found.

The goal of the expanded effort was to document as much material as possible that showed evidence that it had gone through the North Carolina postal system. Normally, these were items that originated in North Carolina, but sometimes they were items that originated elsewhere, were sent to North Carolina and then were redirected within the North Carolina postal system. The planned documentation of this material consisted of a detailed description of each item including where to find the item in the archives' collections. The material remained in the original collections, but now had a postal history reference. The cataloging information was recorded in a permanent database. Although the commission ended in 2000, the postal history project effort has continued by the work of two original commission members. The current project is to catalog all the postal material in the North Carolina States Archives, an ongoing project that will last for many years since the collections at the archives are so extensive.

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Postal History Database and MARS

Figure B - envelop with Confederate manuscript postmark
Figure B. December 16, 1862, Why Not, North Carolina (Randolph County) to Raleigh, rare Confederate manuscript postmark with 10¢ postage paid.

The Manuscript and Archives Reference System (MARS) is an on-line, USMARC compatible, finding aids system in use at the North Carolina Archives. Recently, the postal history database that records the cataloging effort mentioned above was incorporated into MARS. The original database information, created in Microsoft ACCESS, is now available through the on-line MARS. The cataloging effort, which continues, will add new records into the MARS database, probably on a quarterly basis. Because MARS is a finding aids system, some instruction is necessary to understand how to extract postal history information from it.

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Instructions for Researching Postal History in MARS

Step 1: Selecting the Type of Search

The Browse/Basic Search page will always be your starting point. This page lists all the Archival/Digital Collections at the archives that can be searched in MARS. First, select the Search Type you wish. This is the box in the upper left that shows the words FREE TEXT. Actually, this is just the first of eight different types of search that might be selected. The table on the right shows which fields of the postal history database are mapped to a specific Search Type.

Having selected the type of search, insert the search word or words in the box immediately to the right. The search will look for any of the words in the selected Search Type. If, for example, you chose "Greensboro" and selected the Title Field for search type, the results of the search would show those records that originated at the Greensboro post office as well as those from the Greensboro & Charlotte RR or any other post office field that had the word "Greensboro" in it. To isolate your search just to the Greensboro post office you would have to use the Advanced Search capability and select more than one search criteria. In this case you would select "Greensboro" for the first search criteria and NOT "RR" for the second criteria.

Search Type Postal History Database Field
Free Text All Fields
Global Keyword All Fields
Title Field Post Office Field
Personal Name Addressee Field
Call Number Call Number Field
Scope/Content Notes Field
Author Name This is not mapped
Subject County or Keyword Fields
Table 1: Fields Mapped to a Search Type

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Step 2: Choosing the Collections to be Searched

Next, chose the number of records per page that will be displayed. Your choices are 10, 20, 25 or 50 records. Before you ask MARS to begin the search, you must select the collections that MARS will search. The Archival/Digital Collections available to search are listed below. For a postal history search, chose only the Post History Collection by checking the box for this collection. You can search other collections, but any hits that result will be from the search of those collections and will not be information from the postal history database. If you forget to make a collection choice a reminder box will appear to alert you to make that choice. Having made your choices, select the SEARCH button next to the number of records that you selected to be displayed. The next page that shows will be the Results Summary page for your selected search. It will tell you the specific word search that you initiated followed by a listing of the collections and the number of hits for each collection that were found in your search.

Figure C - envelop with manuscript postmark
Figure C. December 11, 1851, Hamilton, North Carolina to Washington, North Carolina, manuscript postmark, upper left corner, 3¢ postage paid with 1851 adhesive canceled with pen stroke.

If you chose to search more than one collection, the results of the search in each of the collections will be listed separately. A multiple collection search will often take much longer than a search of just the Postal History Collection and is not recommended. If there were no hits, you will be told that. Now you can select the Show All box to see a listing of the results of your search, or you can click on either the collection or the number of hits listed, each of which is underlined. This will bring up the Results Display page. Here, the available records will be listed in chronological order. If you did a search by county, the records will be listed by post office in chronological order. The list will show an alphabetical listing of post offices, if more than one resulted from the search, the dates of the postmarks, and the addressees of the record entries. The majority of the records are either folded letters or envelopes that had contained letters.

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Step 3: Viewing Results

By clicking on any listed record, a Full Record Display page will appear for the items. The record will be titled Postal History Entry and will show the name of the post office were the items originated, the posted date and the addressee. This will be followed by a number of information fields as follows:

Field Name Type of Information
Addressee The address label on the item less the name of the state, North Carolina. If another state is in the address, it will be shown. Titles such as "Mr." or "Esq."will not be shown.
Item Date Postmark date: month, day, year
Origin PO Post office of origin. Way letters or those handed to a mail carrier between post offices will be listed under the name of the post office where they entered the mail system, the first one the carrier came to after receiving the letter. Often this will be the post office serving the destination.
Origin County County of origin post office
Cover Type Envelope, Folded Letter, Folded Letter Outer Sheet, Postal Card, Printed Matter, Picture Post Card, Postal Stationery, Turned Cover
Postmark Type Manuscript or postmark type number from Post Offices and Postmasters of North Carolina, Colonial to USPS.
Postmark Color Black, blue, brown, green, magenta, orange, purple, red, yellow; manuscript postmark colors are not listed unless they are other than black
Notes Other postal markings; adhesives on cover if before 1857 issue; other significant information
Keyword 4-Bar, Airmail, Colonial, Confederation, Confederate, Doane, Federal, Flag, Perfin, Provisional, Railroad, Registered, Special Delivery
Source of Record Collection Name
Call Number Specific collection call number and folder number in the collection box. PC 123.2, Folder 1 means that the item is contained in Private Collection 123 box 2, the first folder in the box. GP22/20 means that the item is in Governor Papers book no. 22, page 20. This field is blank for those items in the Postal History Collection because a Call Number has not been assigned to this collection yet.
Postal History Item # Unique number assigned to this record in postal history database.
Table 2: Information Fields in MARS

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The Full Record Display pages will be in chronological order by post office. If you chose the next record repeatedly, you will see that they are sorted by post office, then by date.

The following keywords are available in the database and mapped to the selection of Subject:

  • 4-Bar
  • Airmail
  • Colonial
  • Confederate
  • Confederation
  • Doane
  • Federal
  • Flag
  • Machine
  • Perfin
  • Provisional
  • Railroad
  • Registered
  • Special Delivery

For keywords that select specific time periods, the following dates have been assigned and the reason for that selection:

  1. Colonial (British): Prior to May 31, 1775 (Provisional Governor Martin no longer effective executive)
  2. Provisional: June 1, 1775 to March 1, 1781 (Maryland final colony to ratify Articles of Confederation)
  3. Confederation: March 2, 1781 to November 20, 1789 (North Carolina Statehood)
  4. Federal: November 21, 1789 to 1800
  5. Confederate: May 21, 1861 to May 28, 1865 (North Carolina secedes from the Union and the last Confederate forces surrender)

Advanced seraches may be used by selecting that type of search. Now you have a choice of several conditions and variables on which to search. For instance, if you wanted to know which letters in the database were Raleigh "Way" letters, you would select an advanced search using search criteria Title Field with the name "Raleigh" and search criteria Scope / Content with the name "way." All the hits would be letters that entered the mail at Raleigh as way letters.

Each MARS Record Display page can be examined and printed separately by selecting View Printable Version. Some typical abbreviations used in the database fields are listed in Table 3.

You are ready now to conduct your search and we hope that it will be productive.

Abbreviations Meanings
C/C: Corner Card marking
ca. about
cds circular datestamp
hs handstamp
ms manuscript
recv'd received
thru through
w/ with
Table 3: Common Abbreviations in Database Fields

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Last Modified: 01/04/2010
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