Adventures in Genealogy Adventures in Genealogy

Why Go To The Courthouse

Or "Rednecks, Land Deeds and Probates"

by Uncle Hiram

For years I been telling folks to go to the courthouse. For years DearMYRTLE has been telling folks to go to the courthouse. For years the hosts in the various genealogy chatrooms I hang out in have been telling folks to go to the courthouse. It's like a mantra we all share "Document your sources, Use the FHC, Go to the County Courthouse." All Great advice, all vital to your research and I suspect that all the other folks mentioned, Just like me, never gave it a second thought.

About two weeks ago I got an email from a "new" genealogist that asked a question that had never occurred to me. This Rookie roots chaser asked, "Unk, what can I find at the courthouse?" My first reaction was "Well Duh!" Then I got to thinking about it. I'm always telling folks to visit the courthouse but I've never told them why. I know I have made return visits to the Van Zandt County and Delta County courthouses because I didn't realize that certain documents were on file there.

So lets take a few minutes and talk about what you can find at the courthouse and why you would want these documents.

  1. Birth Indexes and Certificates - The availability of these documents vary from state to state and county to county. If the Indexes are open to the public at your county courthouse they can be a vital help to your research. They list the date of birth and the names of the parents if known. The birth index is a secondary source, because its not the actual legal document. If you can get a copy of the actual birth certificate that is a primary source and a key building block in your research.

  2. Marriage Certificates - This document will not only give you key information (Marriage date and maiden name) but its a Primary Source. (Can you hear the choir sanging in the background?) This document will also serve to prove your ancestor was in a specific place on a specific date.

  3. Death Certificate - Primary Source Document But only for the date of death. The death certificate gives the date of death and often the cause of death. All of the other information on this form (i.e., Birth date, etc.) needs to be verified thru other sources.

  4. Land Deeds - Primary Source Document - This document serves to place your ancestor in a specific spot at a specific date. Also check the witnesses closely, often they were relatives.

  5. Wills - Primary Source Document - This document can be a treasure trove of useful information. The wills list children, sometimes brothers and sisters or nieces and nephews.

  6. Court Probate Records - Primary Source Document. If your ancestor didn't have a will this might be the only place you can find info on him. If he owned land or owed money to people his estate would have gone through probate. Now before you say your ancestor was just a dirt poor farmer in Fayette County Alabama, let me remind you, ALL Farmers owed money. It was the way business was and still is done.

  7. Discharge Records - Many counties Keep a record of all military personal discharged in their county. This can be a wonderful source for finding a copy of your ancestors military discharge and proving his military service.

For more information on these subjects I would like to suggest the following URLs:

Birth Records

Marriage Certificates

Death Certificates

Land Records

Probate Records

I hope this in some small way will help you with your research.

Coming Attractions:

Next Week - A Discussion of the Native American Chat room I recently visited and the announcement of the Sites of the Month Awards for April 2001.

- Adios and Keep Smiling!

Return to the Adventures in Genealogy home page.

About the Author
"I am not rich or famous so I don't have a pre-prepared Bio written by some high paid ghost rider. So I will just give Yall the relevant facts."

- Bill Hocutt (Uncle Hiram)

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