Problems and Solutions to Courthouse Roadblocks

By Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer Premium


Stumped in your search for ancestral answers at a distant courthouse? Here are some of the most common problems family history researchers run into, and some possible solutions.

Problem: In some counties, courthouse personnel won’t search indexes for genealogists (although they will make a photocopy if you give them an exact citation for a record).

Solution: Rent a microfilm index or hire a researcher to look for your records

Problem: Most states have closed recent vital records to protect living people’s privacy. To request these documents, you must be either the person named in the record or a close relative or legal agent.

Solution: If you have the person s consent to get the record, write a letter in that person’s name and have the person sign it.

Problem: Some courthouse employees respond to genealogists immediately; others take several weeks.

Solution: Don’t send requests around election time! Before and after primary and general elections, clerks are busy, and requests pile up.

Problem: A repository that should have a record doesn’t find it.

Solution: There are two possibilities: 1. the record doesn’t exist; 2. the person searching didn’t find it. Did you provide the correct information? Did you request the death certificate of a married woman using her maiden name? If you gave the correct information, unless there’s some urgent reason for obtaining the certificate, wait a few months, then resubmit the request. A different person might be able to find it. But remember there’s no guarantee that a record exists — even for dates when registration was required. Some events were never recorded, and some record books were destroyed in fires, floods and other disasters.
From the June 2003 Family Tree Magazine 

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