Saturday, March 2, 2019

My First--and Only--Visit to a Courthouse

A year or two ago I went with my daughter to a nearby bank so she could change some information.  When she showed her ID with her married name, we learned they required a marriage certificate to access her money or change any of her account information.  The courthouse was a few blocks away so with three little grands in tow, we drove to the courthouse's parking garage, trekked across the busy main street, and rode the elevator up twenty-three flights to get to the room where the marriage records were kept.

That was my first and only visit to a courthouse for anything related to genealogy and, of course, it was not to do research.  But, if I'd needed to do research in Franklin County, Ohio, I would have been thrilled.  There were huge ledgers on open shelves which anyone could pull out, search for the record, then photograph it.  Or, perhaps, it could be taken somewhere for a photocopy. 

It is a wonderful thing to have so many court records available online at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other websites.  It is also fabulous that we can call, email, or write a letter to a courthouse, ask about the availability of a record, request for a copy, give our credit card info, and receive the copy in a few days or a month.  I try to imagine what getting a court record was like before photocopies.  One would have had to trust the accuracy of the person copying the record by hand.

The courthouse records I used most during early days of research were those from Jefferson County, Ohio.  Within the past five years the courthouse transferred many of their oldest records into the hands of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society whose leaders arranged to have them scanned and published on FamilySearch.  (See a list of available records here.)  Sadly, most are not yet indexed so searching is necessary, but having them available in my home on the computer is preferable to travelling two hours without guarantee of finding what I'm looking for.

Before images were available online I wrote letters to several courthouses and received photocopies.  I learned that not all courthouses are amenable to helping researchers, and some did not respond to letters at all.

One of these days I hope to get to the courthouses that don't have records available on FamilySearch, particularly Butler County, Pennsylvania.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "At the Courthouse."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.


  1. Nancy, I have ordered Documents for courthouses too. But I still must plan a courthouse visit.

    1. Me, too, Colleen. I want to visit a courthouse and just poke around. I like Marian's comment, below, about why that's a good idea.

  2. In the 1980s, I took the NGS Home Study Course, and it required some trips to a local court house, archive, etc. My family history was not in the place where I lived and worked, so I just had to choose a stranger's marriage record, a deed, a mortgage, etc., off the shelf, then copy and write a report about it. I think that starting in a place where I didn't expect to find a relative helped me to think more about court house procedures and why the records were arranged as they were. Those lessons transferred well to other court houses, although each one is a bit different, of course.

    So I hope that people will start with a court house close to home and not wait for a week-long vacation to try court house research. Can you fit in a quick visit to a court house on a long lunch hour or leave work an hour early? You don't have to linger after you get a copy or photo of the document that you plan to study and write about. Then go home and do the analysis and writing. Writing about it is a key step in the process. It makes us think about the key information that is required in a deed, for example, and also look up the unfamiliar terms.

    1. Thank you for leaving this wonderful comment, Marian. I had not thought about the usefulness of visiting a local courthouse just to learn what I can find, how things are arranged, etc. What a great idea!

  3. I've spent a lot of time researching Franklin county records, from back in the day. There are a lot of records that haven't been given to the societies and sometimes the ones that are still in the courthouse are quite a treasure trove. Also, the records there for birth death and marriage records were significantly less expensive.

    1. I think I should visit the Franklin County Courthouse just to have a look around (as Marian, who commented just before you suggested). I was surprised at how inexpensive my daughter's marriage record was!


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...