Tag Archives: #atthecourthouse

Old Courthouse records

This week’s prompt from Amy Johnson Crowe’s 52 Ancestors motivational challenge, is “At the Courthouse.”

I’m looking forward to what other genealogy lovers make of it.

My mom went to county courthouses a lot in the old days of genealogy research, back in the 1960’s. Some of the courthouses didn’t even have photocopiers, so she had to transcribe the items she found onto scraps of paper, in longhand. I have files full of these, and believe me, her handwriting is not easy to decipher.

But aren’t lots of old records you’d find in courthouses digitized now? And can be accessed by clicking on a green shaking leaf? Like deeds, probate records, vital records, marriages, etc.?

Let me amend that last sentence. I know that not everything is digitized. I worked for a county property appraiser, and once in a while we’d have to go to the courthouse to see if there was anything on file that would help in a title search. We had ancient old deed books in our office, but sometimes a property description would refer to a really old deed book that we didn’t have, or couldn’t display because the pages were brittle and yellow and crumbling. So, then a trip to the court house was in order.

Some of the records were on microfilm. Not too many years ago, all the techs in our office had a microfiche or microfilm reader machine on our desks. Then, we moved all of them (about 40, I think) to a storage room next to the loading dock, and they were piled up in huge stacks. Our office was vilified as having used heated and cooled office-worthy space for storage of useless junk. So they were moved elsewhere, I don’t know what happened to them. My mom bought one of them for $50. I think it broke, and of course, no one in the modern world knows how to fix them any more.

One time I went to the records annex of the court house to look at some old deed books. The clerk there found them in a cardboard box underneath the counter. The next time I went to look at those records, they couldn’t find them at all. So, sometimes our pilgrimage to the courthouse, with high hopes, turned out to be a wild goose chase. The films were too hard to read, your arm would ache from turning the crank on the microfilm reader, which was never located in an ergonomically suitable spot on the machine, and after long, fruitless hours, you were ready to go to lunch over in the historic district to salvage the day.

If you’re looking for ancestors who lived in the US back in the 1600’s and 1700’s and 1800’s, there’s the question of “which county courthouse should I look in?” My DAR patriot lived in the Cook’s Creek area of what used to be Augusta County, and later Rockingham County, Virginia. [See the historic atlas at this link for some maps that show changes in counties in VA, and other states.] Some of his contemporaries and offspring lived within a hundred or so miles of his old home place, in what is now Pendleton County, but formerly Hardy, Rockingham, Augusta, or maybe Randolph, Lewis, or Grant Counties. Try to find a deed, so you can find exactly where their property was situated, and it says something like “40 rods southeast of the old sycamore tree…”