Blog 2021 10 29 Don’t ignore the courthouses

I have met people who have done research for over 20 years and never once stepped inside a courthouse to conduct their research.  This can be a big mistake as way too many records get overlooked which could help in your research.

While many courthouses have suffered devastating record losses the overwhelming majority have not.  Chances are, if your ancestor lived there long enough, they had to have interacted with the local government.  At the very least, they paid their local taxes.

I have written a series of articles on the subject of research at courthouses which is available through the Cobb County Genealogical society’s website in the member’s section at  I hope to post them here on this website soon.  For now, I will give a brief look at what you might find.

Estate records hold invaluable information about the families who lived in the area and had someone die who owned an estate.  Many people settle for just the will, if one exists, but you really need to evaluate every scrap of paper in the packet.  Often, it took a few years to close an estate during which time minors came of age, daughters married, children died and their share went to their children if they had any.  Married daughters died and their father left items to their grandchildren.  Additionally, once the testator (one making the will) died, his or her executor(s) went into the court to have the will submitted to the court to open the administration of the estate.

Land and deed records can help in identifying when someone moved to an area and when they departed.  Assuming your ancestor bought land (I have one line who were renters for generations) then the earliest recorded date will be closer to when they moved there or became an adult and could buy land.  Also, the land was disposed of in some fashion.  Either they sold it, gave it away as a gift of love, or the estate had to deal with the land after they died.  You may also find that your ancestor was a trustee in some organization such as a church or masons.  I have even found the only known document of a couple separating in the deed records.

Criminal and civil court records can also hold a lot of great information.  Whether your ancestor was charged with a crime or gave testimony, there might be good sources in these records.  Also, we have always been a very litigious society with suing others or being sued and you can learn from these records as well.

Do not overlook the vital records stored in courthouses but do not limit yourself to the “certificates.”  Such as Birth, Marriage, and Death.  You can often find the same information in the vital record registers.  I previously mentioned that my father has two birth certificates in the official files in Appling County with his name spelled slightly different and date of birth wrong.  The register confirmed the spelling and birthday he spent his life using.

One more thing, do not assume all the court ledgers are on FamilySearch, often they are not.  There are miscellaneous ledgers that were not easily categorized which were overlooked.