Genealogy #9: Heading Out on the Road, part 3

Heading Out on the Road, part 3

2. Courthouses

Courthouses are hugely varied in everything from the information available…to how accessible that information is…to whether copies are possible…to how friendly the staff may be.

Information available varies because courthouses were fragile for generations, and therefore the materials inside were subjected to fire, flood, tornadoes, or any other natural disasters.
Sometimes copies are still available at the State Archives,  but you would do well to call in advance.
Actually, calling ahead of time would save a lot of grief, regardless, as each state handles their archive storage differently.
Some keep all records in the home county, while others hold everything up to a certain date in the State Archives.

What you can check for: birth records, marriages, death records, land records, tax records, older maps of the county, wills and/or probates.

How accessible the information is depends on the county and how the courthouse is set up.
I have gone into a courthouse and been subjected to intense screening (similar to that of an airport) and then basically interviewed as to what sources I am looking for and why.
This can be a tough question to answer if you do not already know what sources are available.
Invoke the word “genealogy” early on in the conversation, and things will often get easier, faster.
Or not.
Depends on the county.
I have walked into courthouses, been waved in the general direction of the archives, and left on my own for hours.
I have been asked to “check out” each source, one at a time, for examination in that room only, then asked to return each one in order to see the next.
I have been escorted briskly to a room, quickly handed a pile of materials, and then summarily dismissed. (The materials selected were based on previous genealogists’ requests).

Whether copies are possible depends on several factors:
– Is there a copy machine in the first place?
– If so, can you use it? Some places will allow it, some will not.
Sometimes, the machine just isn’t accessible to the public. Period.
Sometimes, the staff do not want you copying such delicate materials.
– Will you pay for the copies? Some charge whether you are doing the physical copying, or they are.
Sometimes the price for copying is reasonable: 15 to 25 cents a page.
Sometimes the price for copying is outrageous: $2 to $15 a document.
Find out the costs (if any) before making the copies. You have been warned!

How friendly the staff may be is a total gamble.
Sometimes they are very friendly, willing to pull any source you choose.
Sometimes they are quite anti-social, with little or zero interest in helping you in your search.
Keep in mind there may be multiple reasons for this:
For starters, when they came to work today, they already had plenty of tasks, and none of them involved you or your research.
The last genealogist was demanding and rude to them.
The last genealogist left out all the sources, and they had to spend time reshelving stuff.
The last genealogist left a bunch of trash to be picked up after.
The last genealogist ordered a ton of copies, then left without paying.

So, be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Or something like that.

Next post: 3. Newspaper Offices


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