What Genealogy Records Might You Find in a Courthouse?

What Genealogy Records Might You Find in a Courthouse?

If you're trying to figure out a genealogy problem or trace an elusive ancestor, the answer might be in court records. Court records are so varied, and organized in different ways in different places, and usually unindexed, that they can be hard to find and use. Our Courthouse Research...

If you’re trying to figure out a genealogy problem or trace an elusive ancestor, the answer might be in court records. Court records are so varied, and organized in different ways in different places, and usually unindexed, that they can be hard to find and use.

Our Courthouse Research Premium collection has the guidance you need to find these and other types of courthouse records:

  • Early vital records: Counties often stored birth and death registers at the courthouse before states took over vital record-keeping.
  • Probate records: Wills, estate inventories, settlement papers, guardianship appointments and more
  • Deeds: contracts transferring ownership of land and sometimes property (including enslaved humans)
  • Tax lists: registers of those who payed property, poll and other taxes
  • Naturalization records: before 1906, immigrants could file for naturalization with any court—local, state or federal
  • Case files: testimony, evidence, subpoenas and other records relevant to civil or criminal court cases
  • Dockets: schedule of the court’s hearings
  • Minutes: a brief record of the actions for the court for each day
  • Manumissions: documents freeling slaves
  • Orders: record of cases heard and judgments to be carried out
  • Military discharge records: many returning servicemembers would file their discharge records with the county courthouse, a potential substitute if your ancestor’s service records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center
  • Licenses: such as for businesses, medical practitioners or dog owners

Sometimes you can find these records digitized (though rarely searchable) on courthouse websites or FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch has microfilmed court records for many counties (run a place search of the catalog here); you can rent the microfilm for viewing at your local FamilySearch Center. You may need to send a request or visit the courthouse, which—if you’re allowed to search the records yourself—can lead to unexpected finds hidden away in files and bound volumes.

The Courthouse Research Premium collection includes on-demand webinars, the Family Tree Sourcebook e-book and other downloads to help you find use genealogy records from the courthouse. It includes advice you’ll need for visiting and navigating your ancestral county courthouse, which can be a somewhat initimidating proposition (as I learned a couple of years ago). Take a look at what’s in the Courthouse Research Premium collection today in Family Tree Shop.

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  1. Tax lists are usually assessment rolls. If a county was collecting a State tax there may be a separate transmittal of monies paid together with the funds. Delinquencies may be in separate lists or noted on the assessment rolls. The official doing the actual collecting (say, sheriff or bailiff) may keep his own collection lists and transmit a total and the amount to the Treasurer. The assessor may not know anything that happened after he recorded the assessments.

  2. Kathleen Hamilton

    My sister and I have found delayed birth certificate applications in the courthouse records. Many of them contained our great Aunt’s signature who served as a midwife in that area and actually was present at the birth of that person.