One of the most fun parts of genealogy is going on road trips. When planning my genealogy road trip, I like to group all the “indoor” activities together before going out to the “outdoor” activities like homesteads and cemeteries. This post will give you some helpful tips for the indoor activities.
You may not even need to visit the local courthouse. Many years ago, when I had been actively working on some of my lines, I had sent away for all the certificates I could get from the local courthouse. In 1995, letters and checks in self-addressed stamped envelopes flew back and forth! So I had already done some of my work in advance of arriving at my destination.
However, if I had not already gathered all that information, I would definitely want to include a trip to the courthouse on my trip. Here are some items to find out about the courthouse before you go:
- What hours are they open?
- Do they close for lunch?
- Do they allow researchers to have access to records?
- How far back to their records go?
- How much do they charge for copies?
- What is the address of the courthouse?
- Should I go to the local courthouse or the county seat?
- Does the same office handle birth, marriage, death, wills, and land records or separate departments?
So, as you can see, there are lots of questions to get answered before stepping foot in the building. When you go on your trip may depend upon if you need access to the courthouse or not. I actually created a form with my questions and mailed it off (with a SASE) before I ever requested the first record so I wouldn’t be wasting my time and theirs asking for things they didn’t have. Every town, county, and state is different in how they handle records and in their dealings with genealogists. Sometimes I would prefer an actual certificate and sometimes just copying down the name and dates was sufficient – depended upon what relationship I was working on. If I could find a copy of the actual certificate on a website, then I wouldn’t pay for the record at the courthouse.
After visiting the courthouse, my next stop would be the library. Just like with the courthouse, you need information in hand before heading out there.
- What hours are they open?
- Do they have even have genealogy records?
- How extensive is their collection?
- How much do they charge for copies? (I always carry a bag of change with me on trips.)
- What is their address?
- Is there another local library that would have better/different records?
As my research has progressed over the years, I now wish I had taken the time to find out and make copies of some of the more general information about the towns. It would be a nice addition to my research when I share it with family members if I had a picture of the town as it looked in the time period when my ancestors lived there. But I was in too big of a hurry and too focused on just those names and dates to learn about the town and look at those local history books and now I’m wishing I had.
The Local Genealogy Society
The local genealogy society would be my next visit. Sometimes they are tied in with the library and sometimes not. The genealogy society, usually staffed by volunteers may or may not be open so you’ll want to contact them in advance about their hours and what they would have available to you. And don’t be surprised if the local genealogy society isn’t even in the same town as the library. Remember, a lot of the records and work we do is under county records and may be in a different part of the county all together. Where I lived in Mason, Ohio, the local Historical Society had some old records but the Genealogical Society is over in Lebanon. Well worth the drive over if I was visiting from out of state but they also have a great website which I would want to explore thoroughly before my road trip.
In a future post, we’ll talk more about how to prepare for the outdoor activities on your great genealogy road trip.