Courthouses are good sources for historical records. Some records that may assist you in the search for your ancestors include:
|Adoptions||Apprenticeships and indentures||Bastardy cases|
|Business & profession licenses||Coroner's files and inquests||Court proceedings|
|Guardianship papers||Homestead files||Insanity and commitment hearings|
|Jury lists||Justice of the peace records||Land deeds, surveys & plat maps|
|Livestock brands & marks||Mortgages and leases||Name changes|
|Naturalizations||Orphans records||Poorhouse/county farm records|
|Prenuptial agreements||Property foreclosures||Tax rolls|
|Vital records||Voter Registrations||Wills and probates|
A deed is a document by which ownership of land is transferred from one person to another. Deeds can help trace an ancestor's changes of residence between federal censuses. Recorded deeds are kept in county courthouses. If you cannot visit the courthouse, write to the appropriate office to see if the clerk will search deed indexes and photocopy the deed you need. Many deeds and deed indexes have been microfilmed. Deeds on microfilm at the LDS Family History Library can be borrowed at a Family History Center. Individuals and societies have published abstracts of deeds. By using these indexed volumes, you can learn if your ancestor had deeds recorded in a particular county.
Often a father deeded land, sometimes for a very low price or for "love and affection," to his son or to his daughter and her husband. Sometimes the relationship is stated in the deed, e.g., "my son Richard Walker." In other cases, the relationship is suggested because the land is sold without a purchase price or only a token price. A deed with no purchase price is known as a deed of gift. By searching deed indexes and indexes to published abstracts of deeds, you may be able to identify the father of your ancestor.
Probate is the process by which a person's estate is settled after death. The most common type of probate is a will. A will, however, does not give the death date. Other papers created in settling an estate may give the death date. A petition for probate, which is filed when the decedent left a will, and application for letters of administration, which is filed when the person died without a valid will, usually give the date and place of death.
Wills and other probate records are filed in the county in which the decedent lived or in which he owned property. Some of the records may have been copied into record books. The original papers were usually filed together in a probate packet or file. In some counties these original records have been preserved in some they have been destroyed, and in some they have been transferred to the state archives. The LDS Family History Library has microfilmed many recorded probate records. Probate files have been microfilmed less frequently. Individuals and societies have published abstracts of wills. By using these indexed volumes, you can learn if your ancestor's will was recorded in a particular county. If you cannot visit the courthouse, write to the appropriate office to see whether the clerk will search for and photocopy the probate record you need. Bentley's County Courthouse Book listed below gives the address of each county courthouse and the name of the official who keeps probate records.
See also: Probate Records and Wills.
- Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County & Town
Sources. Edited by Alice Eichholz. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City:
Ancestry, 1992. Address of each county courthouse and the
earliest date of death records, probate records, and deeds.
Includes for each state a discussion of vital records, church
records, probate records, and deeds.
1893 Dictionary of Law.
- Bentley, Elizabeth Petty. County Courthouse Book. 2d
ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1995. Addresses and
telephone numbers for more than 3,000 county courthouses and
town halls. Many of the entries include the official to contact
for vital records, probate records, and deeds.
- Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. The Family Tree Resource Book
for Genealogists. Family Tree Books, 2004. Gives information
on resources and record details for every U.S. county.
- Greenwood, Val. The Researchers Guide to American
Genealogy. 3rd edition. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical
Publishing Co., 2000. Has nearly seven pages dealing with
probate records, legal terminology, probate process, kinds of
wills, contested wills, how-to-find wills, intestate, and
guardianships. a later section deals with abstracting wills and
- Hone, E. Wade. Land & Property Research in the United
States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing.
- Land Records Research
Directory. Gives a good introduction to land records by
state and a complete list of courthouses. There are no
individual land records at this site.
- Leary, Helen. North Carolina Research: Genealogy and
Local History. 2nd edition. North Carolina Genealogical
Society, 1996. The chapter on wills is practical and very
clear, especially on the typical structure of wills.
North Carolina, State Supreme Court Case Files, 1800-1909:
The collection contains images of case files from North Carolina
State Supreme Court. Most cases are appeals of lower court
decisions with each case usually covering multiple pages. The
records are arranged chronologically and handwritten.
Online Searchable Death Indexes. Organized by state, it is
one of the best places to find links to a wide variety of online
indexes for deaths, obituaries, burials, probate records, wills,
and other death related records on the Internet.
- Rose, Christine. Courthouse Indexes Illustrated. San
Jose, California: CR Publications, 2006. A basic guide to the
most common indexes found in courthouses across America. It
provides thirty example pictures accompanied by clear,
step-by-step instructions of eight specific types of indexes and
their variations. A final chapter includes information on an
assortment of lesser-used indexes and variations on major index
- Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family
Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose,
California: CR Publications, 2004. The author has researched in
more than 500 courthouses throughout the U.S. and shares this
vast experience to make your courthouse trip more productive.
This book will assist those who can travel to the courthouse and
those who must do their research long distance.
- Shammas, Carole, Marylynn Salmon and Michael Dahlin.
Inheritance in America from Colonial Times to the Present.
Frontier Press, 1997. Excellent look at the distribution of
wealth from the 1700s to 1980, focusing on the relationship
between the inheritance process and changes in capitalism and
the structure of the family.
- The Sourcebook of County Court Records: A National Guide
to Civil, Criminal and Probate Records at the County and
Municipal Levels within the State Court Systems.
Tempe, Arizona: BRB