As both a family history researcher and a county government employee, I have a perspective from both inside and outside the courthouse.
We interact with and depend on our county government each day -- and so did our ancestors. The interactions we have today can help us think about records that our ancestors may have left behind in the counties where they lived.
Here are some ideas of how we may use contemporary county government in a way that generates records:
- Pay taxes or protest tax bills
- Serve on a jury
- Register to vote
- Report a crime or fire
- Call for a paramedic or EMS
- Get a library card
- Apply for a marriage license
- Probate an estate
- Be born or die -- trigger a birth certificate or death certificate
- File for divorce
- File a civil suit
- Get arrested
- Go to court as a plaintiff, defendant or witness
- Register a property deed
- License a dog
- Apply for a zoning change or protest one
- Pay for services such as water or waste disposal
- Obtain a building permit
Our ancestors did some of those same things. Some of them surveyed and built roads. Some hunted wolves for bounty payments. Each county and each time period will have different records.
Those records may be kept in areas other than the courthouse. Some records will be in archives, historical societies or libraries. Some will be in courthouse annexes or administrative buildings. Some will be computerized and others will not. Each county is different.
To effectively research county records, it's important to know the county boundaries, creation dates, customs and record sets, as well as the contemporary locations, policies and hours.
Thank your local county employees the next time you talk to them. They keep us and our records safe for posterity.