Madness Monday: County Courthouses – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I am most definitely not an expert on courthouse research.  I have a lot to learn.

I’ve done some here and there over the years though and I now know when I’ve hit the genealogical jackpot so to speak – or when I’m in for a painful day of begging for records.

I’ve  physically researched in the following courthouses (I’ve sent letters to many more):
Douglas County, Kansas
Leavenworth County, Kansas
Indiana County, Pennsylvania
Bedford County, Virginia
Montgomery County, Virginia
Washington County, Iowa
Keokuk County, Iowa
Buena Vista County, Iowa
Crawford County, Iowa
Ringgold County, Iowa
Dakota County, Nebraska

It never ceases to amaze me that even though most of the courthouses contain the same types of documents, they are so completely  different in how easily accessible those documents are.

I’m not going to come out and say which ones stink for research.

With my luck, those county clerks would find me in GoogleLand and never help me out again.:)  If you want to know about a specific one from the list above, you can drop me a line and I’d be glad to let you know my opinion (if I can remember it).

I would just like to point out that you never know exactly what to expect when it comes to courthouses, so be prepared for anything!

The Good:

  • A large room with wide open counters to place the fifty pound books on is always a plus.
  • Being left to your own devices to pull whatever books you want off the shelves.
  • Making your own copies and paying at the end.
  • Being able to scan or take pictures of documents.
  • Great indexes – some even online!

The Bad:

  • Cramped rooms with no space for opening the books.
  • Having to ask for copies to be made for you – especially when the people working there are busy with “real work”.
  • When they don’t know where the older records are stored.  I’ve seen them searching under boxes of Christmas decorations before.  They were (thankfully) eventually found in the attic.
  • When very delicate pages of old books aren’t protected in any way.

And the Ugly:

  • Having no direct access to the books yourself.  Not being allowed behind the counter. Having to ask for each specific book and have it handed over the counter to you.  And then having to ask for them to make specific copies for you.  Annoying.
  • Being made to feel like you are inconveniencing the people who work there.  They have “real work” to do and apparently playing “go between” between me and the books isn’t their idea of real work.
  • Expensive copies.  50 cents a copy seems pretty steep to me – especially when I want full probate files copied.  I seriously spent $60 getting two probate record files at one courthouse.  (I really hope my husband doesn’t read this….):)
  • Strange hours.  Closing at 2:30 after taking an hour lunch break?  Really?
  • No scanning.  No picture taking.
  • When the books/documents are no longer even at the courthouse!  Having to write a letter and send money across the state to get a copy of a probate file.  Ridiculous.

I’m sure that you veteran courthouse researchers out there have had similar experiences.  What would you add to the list??

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  • Debi Austen - May 30, 2011 - 9:36 am

    I have nothing to add to the list……yet. I’ll be doing my first research trip in a few weeks and I’m busy preparing. If I don’t have a need or if they won’t let me use my new flip-pal mobile scanner, I think I’ll be bummed.ReplyCancel

  • Linda McCauley - May 30, 2011 - 2:20 pm

    I’ve been in some cramped quarters in courthouses but at least I’ve never run into one that didn’t allow direct access to the records or one that didn’t let me make my own copies. That would seriously slow down progress.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - May 30, 2011 - 11:13 pm

    I haven’t been able to dig into courthouses yet. Been too far away to do it. I want a nice long trip home!

    I did read an excellent book about Courthouse research. Its by Christina Rose and its called Courthouse Research for Family Historians. It is absolutely full of valuable research information. I remember when I was reading it that I was highlighting so much, I wondered how I would ever remember it!

    Have a great week!ReplyCancel

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