Editor’s Note: The original post, slightly edited and republished below, was written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley and published in 2012. The information she shares on why it is important to visit a courthouse in person, as well as tips for making your research more efficient while you’re there, is no less relevant today than when she wrote this. Please keep in mind that in the last two years some of the information regarding online record availability or pricing may have changed.
Get thee to the courthouse!
I think that we genealogists may be in danger of falling victim to the need for instant satisfaction. The ability to look at records on Ancestry or FamilySearch, or any number of online resources, is seductive. We like the fact that we don’t have to leave the comfort of our own homes – or at least, don’t have to go further than our local library – to do our research. The plethora of materials accessible with ease saves us a great deal of time and effort – and for those of us with asthmatic tendencies — prevents exposure to moldy and musty materials. What could be wrong with this image, you might ask? First, the majority of courthouse records are not available online at this time, although some jurisdictions are more open to digital access than others. Second, in my judgment, when we rely too heavily on easy online access, we risk distancing ourselves from the records themselves, depriving ourselves of a more intimate understanding of their content, organization, and relationship with other records in the same geographical area.
The solution to this online dependency is when at all possible, visit a courthouse in person. If distance prohibits such onsite research, consult microfilm copies of the records. Here are some strategies: Continue reading…