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Courthouse Records: Position Yourself for Success Bryan L. Mulcahy Fort Myers Regional Library (239) 533-4626

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Presentation on theme: "Courthouse Records: Position Yourself for Success Bryan L. Mulcahy Fort Myers Regional Library (239) 533-4626"— Presentation transcript:

1 Courthouse Records: Position Yourself for Success Bryan L. Mulcahy Fort Myers Regional Library (239) 533-4626

2 Intimidation Factor

3 Most Common Intimidation Issues 1.Legal jargon 2.Attitude of staff 3.Everything is online 4.LDS has microfilmed and/or digitized everything 5.My family was “dirt poor” 6.Courthouse fires destroyed records 7.Too many jurisdictions (city, township, parish, state, federal, agencies, military, etc.)

4 Historical Significance 1.Where all legal matters or transactions impacting daily lives were conducted. 2.Examples included: a. Recording of property and land ownership b. Deeds c. Bills-of-sale d. Leases e. Personal or business contracts f. Marriage applications and licenses g. Adoptions and guardianship matters h. Civil and criminal trials/disputes

5 Historical Significance 1.From a historical perspective, the concept of ownership of personal property was what separated American from the rest of the world. 2.What constituted personal property has changed overtime. 3.From a historical perspective, personal property could have meant any of the following items: a. Real estate f. Women and children b. Slaves g. Currency c. Farm equipment h. Sailing vessels/ships d. Tools i. Household items e. Machinery j. Animals (usually work related)

6 Court Records of Most Genealogical Research Value 1.Vital Records (Birth, Marriage, Death, Divorce) 2.Health and Disease Outbreaks 3.Wills and Probate Estate Settlement Packets 4.Deeds and Mortgages 5.Plat Books and Surveys 6.Taxes (Personal Property, Business, and Land) 7.Business and Professional Licenses

7 Court Records of Most Genealogical Research Value 8.Bounty Land Grants 9.Military Discharges 10.Livestock Marks 11.Voter Registrations 12. Naturalizations 13.Civil and Criminal Court Dockets 14.Trial Transcripts and Court Reports

8 Birth Record-1905

9 Marriage Certificate – Russia 1907

10 Marriage Certificate – Pennsylvania 1924

11 Death Certificate-New York 1923

12 Disease Outbreak - 1914

13 1918 Flu Pandemic – New Jersey

14 Will of John Britten of High Littleton dated 10th July 1656

15 Anthony Family Estate Settlement Catawba Co. North Carolina 1847

16 Deed for Plot at Saegertown Cemetery, Saegertown, PA-1860

17 Dueling and Law Licensing in 1853- Texas

18 Land Grant – Texas 1838

19 Bounty Land Grants The “Bible” of Research for Land Grants:

20 Columbia Township, Hamilton County, Ohio, Ear Marks (Livestock), 1791-1820

21 Minnesota Naturalization Court Record

22 Advantages 1. Establish family relationships. 2. Places of residence. 3. Provide occupation, education, financial, & personal descriptions/profiles of individuals. 4. Identify family members and associates that may be sources for additional info. 5. Court systems exist at multiple levels of political jurisdiction. 6. Many government agencies and the military have their own court systems and records.

23 Internet Access 1.All courthouses have websites. 2.Supplement what is found in print sources by visiting websites prior to your visit. 3.Websites provide the following information: a. What records are available onsite versus offsite? b. Current hours of operation to the general public. c. Application forms and ordering information for vital records, drivers licenses, passports, occupations, social security, identity, etc. d. Guidelines for access (public records are not automatically available). e. Fees for research services, copies, etc. f. Listing of alternative sources of research assistance if staff is unable to assist.

24 Internet Access 4. Most major courthouse records of interest (deeds, wills, court records) have been microfilmed by the Family History Library. 5. Available for loan through Family Search. 6. Available online in varying degrees from online sources such as Family Search,, Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3, etc.

25 Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio

26 Records Availability 1.Some researchers assume that all historical courthouse records have been microfilmed and digitized by the Family History Library and are available online. 2.Reality: not all courthouse records were made available for research and microfilming. 3.Records that were made available tended to be those covering the time period prior to 1920. 4.Post 1920 records are usually still under privacy or other statutory guidelines. 5.Researchers must deal directly with the courthouse for access.

27 Records Availability 6. While copies of some vital records, by law after the early 1900s, were also sent to the various state archives, there are no guarantees. 7. There are over 3,000 counties located in the 50 states. 8. Counties, townships, municipalities, and cities are all subdivisions of the state. 9. Boundaries of counties, districts, and townships, as well as officials, court structures, and record-keeping procedures are all determined by the state. 10. There will be some unique peculiarities, but the general policies will apply to all counties within the state. 11. If you learn how to do research in one state, you can follow the same basic procedures in another.

28 Courthouse Fires 1.Most were made of wood prior to the early 1920s. 2.Common stereotypes may identify this problem with the South and the Civil War, but it was a frequent occurrence throughout the country. 3.In spite of these issues, never give up. 4.Since records were compiled by hand, the various books were frequently in locations other than the courthouse. 5.Records could be reconstructed after the fact as people died or became involved in litigation. 6.Was especially true of probate, property, and tax records.

29 In-Person Visits to Courthouses 1.Check your local library, Family History Center, or state archives for a publication containing an inventory of microfilmed or published list of county courthouse records for the state and county. 2.Check to see if the state in question has an historical commission. If so, request a listing of county historians. 3.Check published print sources for an overview of courthouse holdings. 4.If the county in question has a designated individual, they could save you a significant amount of work. 5.Contact the local genealogical or historical society (Discuss what your research goals and objectives). 6.Check the courthouse website.

30 In-Person Visits to Courthouses 7. In many courthouses space is at a premium. The records you need may be scattered throughout multiple offices and locations. 8. Wear comfortable or “throw-away” clothing. 9. Courthouses house multiple record types. The first priority should be locating whichever section handles the recording and registration of deeds. 10. Regardless of what disasters have occurred, deeds and related land records usually survive when almost everything else is destroyed. 11. These were the main cash-generating records used by the county for taxing purposes. 12. Have a plan prior to your visit.

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