Courthouse records are any records maintained in the courthouse. Many of them include courthouse proceedings, whether criminal or administrative. Clerks keep a range of different records, including the marriages and mortgages in the county or town in which you live.
Here is a list of some of the documents you will likely come across at a courthouse:
Here is the biggest secret to working with courthouse records: a lot of your research is going to start before you even make it to the courthouse. Some records can be found online, so you should start with a Google search of your local records and see if they are available.
Some courthouses might require an appointment so be sure you learn the guidelines of what you need beforehand. Their websites are a good place to start, or you can call ahead to confirm a lot of information before you plan your trip.
Before you make your way to the courthouse, start digging through your own family records. You should prepare names to look up and make lists of which documents to try and find. If you have a goal when you arrive at the courthouse, you are much more likely to be efficient in your research.
Before you head to the courthouse, be sure to call and ask these questions. They will help you have a smooth and productive research trip.
While courthouses are a great place to learn more about your ancestors, you likely won’t be able to bring out any of the materials. You will have to do all of your research while you are there, so be sure you arrive as early as possible to maximize your time.
Familiarize yourself with their photocopier policy. You will want to make scans or photocopies of all of your records if you can.
If you have prepared properly, you should have a productive day searching through court records. Just remember two things when you are getting ready for your trip:
Courthouses can be busy places, so family historians are not always a welcome distraction. Be sure you have done any research you can at home and call ahead first. You might go all the way to the courthouse only to find that the records you need are inaccessible, or their visitor hours are on another day, or you need an appointment.
The people working at the courthouse are not librarians, so they may not be as well versed in the collections as you are hoping they will be. Remember that a courthouse is a working place, and many people have their own jobs to tend to – it’s not usually their job to direct you to the materials you need.
If you have specific questions that can be easily answered, go ahead and find a clerk to help you. They may also point you toward the right person to speak to about your query. Either way, be very respectful of their time and try to be as direct and to the point as possible. Be quiet while working and polite to the other researchers and courthouse employees.