Tips for genealogists searching courthouse records

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Courthouse records are great sources of information for genealogists. But, to take full advantage of them, we need to be aware of how they were created, how they have been indexed (if at all), and how they are now presented online.

Keep in mind:

  • Indexes are always a great help. But, in older days, indexers may have excluded some people and some information. Even modern indexes sometimes don’t list all names.
  • People may have been inconsistent in whether they used their first or middle name in legal records or the census. So if you know both names, check under both.
  • At, you can find most U.S. county courthouse records now in digitized format for free. But, be aware, if you have seen a record on microfilm, it may be filed slightly differently in a county’s table of contents. Case in point: In Jefferson County, Georgia, under “Minutes,” there are “Minutes of the Inferior Court for County Purposes.” But, under “Letters of Administration,” there are the more useful “Minutes of the Inferior Court for Ordinary Purposes.” Deeds are under “Land and Property.” Anything that was a miscellaneous record when microfilmed may not fit a standard category or may not be digitized at all.

Henry County Bicentennial

Many of the counties created by the 1821 Georgia Land Lottery are celebrating their 200th anniversary this year. Henry County held such a ceremony last month.

Estate Divisions

Remember, your ancestors were not required to name all their children in wills — you just hope they did. If someone did not leave a will, and had enough property for the courts to name an administrator, there should be a division, usually in the Annual Returns, or similar volumes. I have seen distributive shares as low as 30 cents, so study the returns carefully.

Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., P.O.Box 901, Decatur, Ga., 30031 or