Courthouse Records

County courthouses probably  contain the most valuable hard to acquire information on individuals. Historically, courthouses have had a tendency to burn down. There is an ongoing healthy debate in the genealogy community about all records being destroyed. Some have exposed the court clerk's for selling the pages of books that weren't destroyed by fire. Some have said that incoming clerk's are unaware of records in the attic (the outgoing clerk failed to mention it) and still some say that career clerk's just don't want anyone to touch whatever might have survived the passage of time. Whatever the case, if the county you are researching in had a fire back in 1901, ask the clerk anyway: "Did any records survive the fire?"   Also keep in mind that it might be necessary to check surrounding county courthouses for records. For example, in states like Texas, it was perfectly acceptable for poll taxes and property deeds to be filed in counties other than where the person actually lived and in the case of Louisiana, everyone born before 1803 was born in Louisiana though the area covered the following states (either n part or in whole): Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming so while the family may have a long history in Nebraska, check our geography page to find out when Nebraska actually changed from a Louisiana territory to an organized state.

The confusion about the origins of our families in America can be attributed to boundary or territorial changes, illiteracy and in rare instances, they really just did not know. Pay close attention to county lines that border another state as you might have to check that state for additional information.

Depending upon the location and tax base, some courthouses are extremely technology efficient whereas others are still doing most things by hand with minimal technology assistance. Before you visit the courthouse, you should call the clerk to find out what their status is: are they online or offline? This will help you to better prepare for the visit. If they are online, your time can be planned for more efficiently as your research should be less challenging. If they are offline, plan to stay in town a few more days. In either situation, once you get access to records, you are on your own. You will not have help in your research as most county governments are understaffed. You can ask questions but all you will get is the answer. If you have a laptop, take it with you! Make sure it's charged as you will not be able to use the outlets. If you prefer copies of the original records, expect to pay about $1.00 for each copy. There are some who will give you original marriage licenses just to free up needed space--it doesn't hurt to ask.