Genealogy is a fascinating treasure hunt that can lead to exciting discoveries about family history. Tracing a family tree takes time, patience, and resourcefulness. Many records are available online, but inevitably, your search will lead you to the courthouse, where you’ll find birth, death, and marriage certificates and so much more. Before you head to the courthouse in search of your ancestors, study these seven tips to make your courthouse research significantly easier and lead to better results.
Do Your Research
Over the years, some courthouses have moved their records department off site to another location, sometimes for space reasons. Before you head to the courthouse, make a phone call to determine if the records you seek are housed on site or off so you don’t waste a trip. Ask if a reservation is necessary, whether or not there are any restrictions, the hours of operation, and any special procedures you’ll need to know beforehand.
Be Prepared to Pay
Many municipalities charge a fee for making copies, which includes taking digital photos of a record, so ask about pricing and payment methods before you go. Some courthouses take credit cards while others do not, so it is important to know ahead of time what to expect.
Make sure you have a list of what you’re looking for before you go to the courthouse. It often helps to keep the list in chronological order to prevent digging through mounds of paperwork during the search.
Get Priorities in Order
It can also be helpful to make a list of the things you absolutely need to find during your visit, such as deeds or death certificates. Keep the list in order of importance, so you get the most important things done first and walk away with the most critical information possible.
Get to Know the Staff
Courthouse personnel are there to help, and they will gladly direct you to where you need to go. If you plan to spend a fair amount of time at the courthouse, it pays to be kind to the staff. They can help you find what you’re looking for in the best way possible and show you how to use their system to find everything you need. Be respectful and follow the rules.
Using a laptop or paper, take careful notes as you find the records you’re looking for. Ask permission to make copies, and document exactly where you found the record in case you need to find it again. Note the name of the record book, any series or book numbers, and the dates covered in the information.
Be sure to finish your research before closing time and thank the staff members who helped you. After all, you want to be welcome to come again should you need to find additional documentation.