Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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Do you search for records in courthouses? If you don't, why don't you? Does the thought intimidate you?
I had the opportunity to hear Sandra Hargraves Luebking speak on the subject of courthouse research. She gave a very interesting talk and had lots of help for those of us who haven't done much of that kind of research.
She says and this is true of other research trips also, plan your trip.. Make sure that you have the correct courthouse. If your research is at a much earlier date...chances are that the area you want may be in another county as boundaries change with the growth of an area. Use either The Red Book edited by Alice Eichholz PhD, CG or Everton's The Handy Book for Genealogists. These will help you find the right place..
Before you go, use the Internet to check on what is online for you from the county and its courthouse. If you find the records you want, fine, but then send for a copy of the originals. Also check your local Family History Center to see what the LDS church has on microfilm from that area.
After that, write to the courthouse to ask what their hours are, what holidays are observed, where in town the courthouse is and how to get there, what records they hold (some places send some of their records to regional facilities) and what are their search policies.
Now for your trip. She cautions us to be polite and to have a pleasant attitude. The impression you create or leave will have an effect on how researchers who follow you are treated..
You néed to make a list of what you are looking for and the surnames involved. Because your time may be limited, consider this as a gathering trip rather than one where you can sit back and make judgements on what you find.
Ms. Luebking says that you should use the indexes first for your list of names, copying down the page number and the case number and other pertinent information. Don't forget to copy down the book name and volume number for your citations later After you have done that, then you can go to the records to get the information you are seeking.. When you find this, either photocopy it or transcribe it.
Probate records are those used to settle an estate. The estate may be one where the person left a will or intestate where no will was made,..so be sure to ask for the probate records rather than just asking for the will. You will get much more information.
Under Civil Records, you will find things like protectors rights, name changes, adoptions, naturalizations and divorce records. All of these will help you to know more about your ancestor..
There are other records which she lists under Miscellaneous. These can be of indentures for the poorhouse and indentures to be bound out to another person and other records She has found records of marriages, births and even deaths in courthouse records such as these and others such as land records...deeds and such.
When you are using the indexes, she says to use the individual books rather than the Master Index as that is a secondary source and the others are probably more accurate. If you don't find the person you are looking for in the index and you feel very sure that he should be there, look under letters such as "T" for To Whom It May Concern or "I" for In Regards To or even "Q". "Q" is a page that has very few entries, so the clerks, if they run out of room, are likely to put other names there. At the bottom of the page you are searching, it may say "see Q" or even "C Q".
This should help you have a more successful research trip to a courthouse Good hunting!
January is the start of my sixth year as the research person for Eastern Washington Genealogical Society. For all the requests that come by mail or E-mail, I do the research in either the library or the courthouse. The thanks I get from happy genealogists is what makes this the best job in the society. This article will just be on courthouse research..
When I started, I had never done any research at the local courthouse, so Ray Fisher, the retiring researcher, offered to show me around the local courthouse. This courthouse has two areas of interest to genealogists; the court records, wills and probates, divorces and criminal records; and the auditors records, marriage, births and deaths of the early years and land records.
The auditor at one time also had naturalization records, early coroner's records and the records of the World War I veteran discharges, but these have been sent to the regional archives for Washington state at Cheney, Washington. I did get to see the coroner's books and also the World War I records before they were sent to the archives.
The state of Washington did not start collecting marriage records until About 1960, so each county has the marriage records. Marriage records are the main reason I go to the courthouse. The courthouse has records from about 1880 to the present. The county has indexes that span a few years before the book was filled and then they started a new index. All the marriages are indexed by both groom and bride. The earliest were just recorded in the books. Later ones had a fancy certificate and a marriage return, the form the bride and groom filled out to get the license (this has ages, parents names, occupations and the number of this marriage, usually the first marriage).. Later on, they combined the certificate and marriage return.
Until recently, the auditors records were in a room next to the auditor's office. You signed in there and they let you check the indexes yourself. The handwriting is generally easy to read. The room was also the break room for the employees so one had to be sure not to use the break table to check indexes. They had another small table to use for the indexes.. Last summer, I was there when the Auditor came by with someone else. She was pointing out that the new courtroom the county had authorized would be located here so all the records located here would be moved to the fireproof vault across the hall from this room. The room across the hall had been used for election records and overflow from the land records still in the auditors office. The election board got a new area. All of the election records were moved there. That left plenty of room for the marriage and land records that were across the hall. The next time I was at the courthouse, they had moved about half of the records and the last time I was there they had finished moving all the records, but the copier was still in the auditors room across the hall.
Probate records here require a lot of walking so you want to wear comfortable walking shoes. The clerks office is on the third floor. They have an elevator but it is very slow, so the stairs are faster. The index there will give you a case number. Then you go back down to the street level, cross the street to the south to a small cement brick building. You head for the basement (no elevator here).. They have a large room filled with paper and microfilm records. Records from the last few years are still there in paper form, but all the earlier court records are on microfilm. You give the helper the case number and she finds the microfilm, loads it and finds that case on the film. You can then take notes, but if you want copies you call the helper and she makes the copies. When the copies are done you count the pages and head back to the clerks office to pay the dollar a page for the copies. With your receipt in hand you then head back to the archives for the copies. The county wants cash or checks on local banks. On one probate, I was to get copies of was 365 pages long. I had instructions to copy just the genealogically important pages. About half the queries I get for probate searches first ask how much the county charges. When I tell them, I never hear from them again.