August 17, 2017

Ohio Genealogy Research and the Virtual Courthouse

I have thoroughly enjoyed having Amie Tennant as a blogger for the past year. In her final blog post for Genealogy Gems she takes us on a tour of her home state’s digital records. Then she will be turning all of her attentions to her own genealogical certification. Thank you Amie for all of your helpful and thoroughly enjoyable posts!  – Lisa Louise Cooke  

Ohio genealogy research goes digital. You can now virtually walk into any courthouse in Ohio with the click of the mouse. Check out the amazing browse-only databases at FamilySearch for Ohio and other states, and take your family history research to the next level.

Ohio genealogy courthouse records
I use FamilySearch.org to search courthouse record books all the time. In particular, the Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996 now have nearly 7 million digital images of county record books such as wills, estate files, guardianship records, naturalization records, minutes, bonds, and settlements. In fact, many other states have their court record books online at FamilySearch, too. So, why haven’t you noticed before?

Browse-only Databases vs. Indexed Databases

Ohio genealogy guardianship recordYou may have read our previous post on step-by-step instructions to using browse-only databases at FamilySearch. If you didn’t, you should know that when you are searching for records at FamilySearch using the traditional search fields, you are only searching for records that have been indexed. In other words, there may be thousands of records you need on the site, but you won’t find them. They have not been indexed by a searchable name, place, or date. Instead, you need to go in the virtual “back door.”

Step 1: First, go to FamilySearch and sign in. Next, click Search at the top right. Now you will see a map of the world. Click on the desired location. I have chosen the U.S., but you can choose any country you are interested in.

Step 2: Once you choose your desired country or continent, a pop-up list will be available and allow you to choose the state (or country) you wish to search in. In this case, a list of the U.S. states appears and I clicked on Ohio.

Ohio genealogy at FamilySearch

Step 3: The system will direct you to a new page. You will first see the Ohio Indexed Historical Records. These are the records and collections that have been indexed and are searchable by name, date, and place. Though these are great, they are not the record collections I want to share with you today.

Instead, scroll down until you see the heading Ohio Image Only Historical Records. You will notice several databases such as cemetery records, church records, naturalization records, etc. All of these are browseable. That means you will use them like you would microfilm.

Step 4: I want to bring your attention to a specific record collection, so scroll down even further until you see Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996. Click it.

Ohio genealogy probate records

At the next screen, you will see you can browse the 6,997,828 Ohio probate records and you are probably thinking, “What!? I can’t possibly browse through nearly 7 million records!” But, you can, so go ahead and click it!

Step 5: At the new screen, you will see everything is broken up into counties. Click on the county you are interested in researching. You will next see a list of possible record books available for that county. Each county will vary, so where you may find guardianship records available in one county, you might not find them in another.

Ohio Genealogy Research at the Courthouse

As a refresher, courthouse research is often imperative to thorough genealogy research. Here is a helpful chart of the type of information you may find in these types of court records. Be sure to remember: records and the amount of information they contain change overtime.

Ohio genealogy records

More on Courthouse Research Techniques

Ohio genealogy courthouse researchAre you looking to understand the value of courthouse research and how to use those records to overcome brick walls in your family tree? Try this video class taught by Judy Russell, available to download from the folks at Family Tree Magazine. “From confusing legal jargon to busy clerks and inconsistent records from one county to another, the courthouse can be an intimidating place to conduct family research. Learn to carry yourself with confidence in the courthouse and fight through obstacles to discover important records about your ancestors.” Click here for Courthouse Research Tips and Tricks, and use coupon code GEMS17 for 10% off at checkout! (Valid through 12/31/17)

Also, read 4 Ways to Power Up Your Courthouse Research Skills from our own Sunny Morton.

Where to Look When There’s Been a Significant Record Loss

significant record loss

A significant record loss can be due to fire, water, weather disaster, or even theft. A courthouse disaster is one of the worst ways in which a genealogy research plan can be derailed. Learn some alternate locations for vital information to help you keep moving along!

I read somewhere the thirty-five counties of Tennessee have some level of record loss. Can you believe that? After researching long enough, it seems we all run into a county level record loss due to a courthouse disaster. What are we to do? Here are a few helpful tips!

Know Your County

While researching in Lee County, Virginia, I couldn’t figure out why some of the records I needed had not been microfilmed by the Family History Library. The answer was: a significant record loss. Unfortunately, I had wasted time searching for records that didn’t even exist anymore. Instead of going round and round looking for records that may have been lost or destroyed, begin your search by learning whether there has been a record loss in your targeted county. You can quickly find this information in the FamilySearch wiki at FamilySearch.org. Click Get Help at the top right corner and choose Research Wiki from the pull-down options.

Courthouse record loss

Once you have reached the wiki search page, type in the county and state you are interested in.

Courthouse_Record_Loss_3

At the wiki research article for your targeted location, scroll down and look for a disaster icon. There are four icons that represent the type of loss your county has experienced, if any. In the record loss section of the article, you will find what records and years have been lost or damaged.

Courthouse_Record_Loss_2

It is important to remember that you should never assume that what is listed on the wiki is 100% accurate. There may be times when records were “lost” at one time, but turn up later…you never know. It pays to check the wiki first, then confirm with a knowledgeable person at the county courthouse or local genealogical society. Check, check, and check again.

Finding Alternative Sources When Dealing with a Record Loss

Courthouse record loss can be an obstacle, but not a barrier. You can continue to do effective research in these situations with a little know-how and some exhaustive searching. Leave no stone unturned!

Many know that the 1890 federal census was almost entirely destroyed by fire and consequent water damage in 1921. Because of this record loss, I figuratively lost my family between 1880 and 1900. Using another record source entitled “Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes,” I found that many of my family members had filed for this allotment. The 1887 General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act, allowed land to be allotted to members of Native American tribes. In 1893, the Dawes Commission began accepting applications and these application packets are packed full of genealogical data.

In my fourth great-aunt’s application packet for enrollment in the five civilized tribes, she listed all her children (even the illegitimate ones), who her father was, who her paternal grandfather was, and where they had lived over the last 75 plus years. It helped me to put together the family story line that had been lost.

When there has been a county level record loss, look for federal records which could be advantageous. Some additional federal records to consider might be: pension files, military records, naturalization records, or passport applications.

Even when there has been a county level record loss of one set of records, consider where you might find the information you need in another record set. I noticed that Claiborne County, Tennessee had lost or damaged marriage records between 1801 and 1837. However, no deed or land record sets have been lost. You may be surprised to learn that deeds and land records will often name a spouse. Though this doesn’t give you a date of marriage, it works as a record to support a marital relationship and can narrow down the year of marriage.

Death records been destroyed? Don’t forget our recent article on finding cemetery records as an alternative! Newspapers and obituaries are another great source of information. For a cheat sheet of alternative records for vital statistics, check out the United States Record Selection Table at FamilySearch wiki.

When faced with any record loss, it’s reassuring to know that records were created at all levels of government, offering us viable alternatives. I would love to hear your story. In the comments below, I hope you’ll share the losses you have faced and the creative alternatives you uncovered.

More Gems on Alternative Records

Cemetery Records: An Alternative to Death Records

A Life Changing Find at the National Archives