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Genealogy: Finding Courthouse Records on the Internet

Every genealogist who has started research first on the Internet must eventually go beyond what is available from that source. That is especially true when working with courthouse records. Though there are isolated cases of digitized court records being available on the Web, the vast majority are not accessible in that form. The Internet, however, can help in related ways.

A useful site is the State and Local Government on the Net (SLGN) website at www.statelocalgov.net. Experiment with the options given. These websites won't have the actual records, but will provide some helpful aids, such as historical background, maps, hours and location, or others.

Lineage Lessons

One of the biggest fallacies of genealogy is that “everything is available on the Web” or on microfilm or in books. Not so. There is much, much more. Researchers posting messages on the bulletin boards often lament that they have a “brick wall” problem when in reality they have many clues to pursue. The answers just are not online. Nor are they all in published books or microfilm. Ultimately, it will be necessary in many cases either to visit the courthouse personally or write them a letter, or else hire someone to go there for you.

Another type of website is the Massachusetts Registry of Deeds at www.mass-doc.com/land_registry_dir.htm. This one takes you to a page with links to maps of the state's towns/cities and counties, plus links to counties. From there you can access the county courthouse information.

The site at www.co.ulster.ny.us is for the Ulster County, New York, local government website. Substitute the name of another county in the URL, such as www.co.ontario.ny.us and off you go to that county where you'll find maps and more.

These are just a few examples. There is an extraordinary number of sites that are available to help you when researching local government.

Will these websites serve as a substitute for utilizing the records within a courthouse? No. Some of the sites may have digitized a few of the records, some may post a few indexes, but this is miniscule compared to what is available. In no case are all the valuable courthouse records, or even a majority of them, available on the Internet.

Each trip you make to the courthouses will bring new memories and experiences. You may be offered coffee or you may be ignored. Either way, remain courteous and friendly, and thank the clerks when you leave. The impression you leave will influence treatment of the next genealogist who arrives. You will remember each experience: the strawberry festival in the courthouse parking lot, going down three subbasements and through three locked doors to work in the old deeds, or finding another visitor there working on the same family. You may stop and consider, in awe, that you are actually holding in your hands a document that was written during the Revolutionary War, or a 1720 document signed by your ancestor dividing his few possessions. He was holding the very same paper you now have in your hand.

I'll bet that you, too, will become addicted!

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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