The title is from one of Aesop’s Fables about a tale of two mice. Around 5% to 10% of the Southern U.S. population lived in cities but they have unique resources for genealogy.


There are two cities of note in the colonial South: Baltimore at over 13,000 population and Charleston at over 16,000. Most of the research on these cities will use local records collections such as city and church archives. Probate records would be useful for those who don’t own city lots.

Colonial Baltimore

Colonial Charleston


As research moves into 19th century cities, we employ the usual probate, tax list, and census records. Deeds are not as useful, as many residents rent places of work and residence.

Larger towns will have newspapers and ethnic communities often have specialty newspapers. Church records are quite valuable in this research. City directories are lists of residents and businesses published yearly by companies. They are one of the best ways of tracking lives of people in urban areas.

The city keeps official records such as city courts and permits. Even a record such as a dog license can be quite revealing. Sexton records are burial records kept for city owned cemeteries. Other local collections include Sanford fire insurance maps, vertical files, obituaries, and photograph sets. These can be used to research a building, places of residence, employers, neighbors as well as the family of interest.


City offices and archives keep most of the official records. The local genealogy and Local History collections of city library are invaluable. City Museums as well as small theme museums can have important history and collections. Examples are firefighter, medical, and maritime museums. If your research subject was in a specialty occupation there may be a city museum with records.

Historical building and zoning commissions are very helpful for building research. It can be an historic house the family owned or a building where they worked. The city historical society should not be overlooked. Archives of local colleges and universities may also hold collections. Notice that many of these records are from sources other than the courthouse.