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Tips and Samples for Writing Courthouse Record Request Letters

By Family Tree Editors Premium

When you can’t go to the courthouse yourself and the records aren’t on microfilm, it’s time to sit down and compose a good old-fashioned letter. Be specific when writing to a county clerk to request records. After all, the clerk is busy, and responding to genealogists’ letters usually isn’t high on her list of priorities.

General records request

Let’s say you want to see if Great-great-grandpa William Shough, who died in 1878, left a will in Orange County, Va. First, identify where to write using The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists (Family Tree Books), which gives resources and record details for every US county. The Orange County, Va., listing tells you the year probate records begin, the court that holds the records and the address for the clerk’s office. Then write a letter with enough information for the clerk to help you, but not so much that she relegates your request to the recycle bin. For example:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am looking for the will of William Shough, who died in your county in 1878. Could you please check your index for this (as well as under the spelling Show), and let me know if you have a will recorded for him and what the cost would be to obtain a copy of the full record?

Thank you for your assistance. I am enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your reply.

Sincerely,

[your name]
[address]
[phone number]
[email address]

Keep in mind that most court clerks will search only for what you specifically ask. Although William Shough died in 1878, his will could have been recorded several years after the fact. To be safe, you might want to ask for a five- to 10-year search span in your letter. Likewise, the clerk probably won’t check under different spellings, so include a couple of variations.

You can make the clerk’s job easier if you’ve already done some of the legwork. Say you’ve found the location of your ancestor’s file in microfilmed courthouse-record indexes, but you don’t have access to the records themselves. Don’t force the clerk to duplicate your efforts — include the volume and page number from the index in your written request.

Court case requests

Request for a specific court case

To the County Clerk:

I am seeking the lawsuit of [name v. name], Case # [number]. I am enclosing a check for $5 to cover the cost of photocopying the entire file. If this is insufficient, please let me know the cost, and I will be happy to send the remainder.

Thank you for your assistance. I am enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your reply.

Sincerely,

[your name]
[address]
[phone number]
[e-mail address]

Request for general court case research

To the County Clerk:

I am trying to determine whether my ancestor, [name], was recorded in any [county name] [civil/criminal/equity] court cases. I would appreciate it if you could photocopy and send me the pages from the indexes covering this surname, or, if the indexes are arranged by court term, for the period [year range] when he lived in the county.

I am enclosing a check for $5 to cover the cost of photocopying. If this is insufficient, please let me know the cost, and I will be happy to send the remainder.

Thank you for your assistance. I am enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your reply.

Sincerely,

[your name]
[address]
[phone number]
[e-mail address]

Foreign archive requests

[date]

[name of institution]
[street address of institution]
[city, state, postal code and country]

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am currently researching my family history and am requesting a copy of a [record type: birth, marriage, death] for [full name of person].  The [name of event, e.g. birth, death, or marriage] took place on [date, or approximate date] in [town, village, county of event]. This individual’s parents’ names were [parents’ names, if you know them].

Please inform me of the cost for obtaining a photocopy of the record and how this payment may be sent to you.  I have enclosed a self-addressed envelope for your convenience.

Thank you for your attention to my request.

Sincerely,
[your name]
[address]
[phone number]
[e-mail address]

Some of the information in this article appeared in the September 2005 issue of Family Tree Sourcebook.

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