Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 26 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 December 17, 2014
In this article we will discuss a more tips for a courthouse visit. The marriage, deed and tax records can provide great insight into your family, but I always enjoy finding the unique items and records in a courthouse.
From all of us at Mountain Press, we would like to wish you a wonderful Holiday Season!!
James L. Douthat
Goin’ Courtin’ Again
Here is the second article on the courthouse trip. You can view the first article here. We all know that certain records are kept in the courthouse and we expect to find them in that location. Most courthouses have the marriage records, deed records and tax records. These records we find in abundance in any courthouse, but they vary in scope. You can also find other interesting records in the courthouse that are surprises and make your trip well worth the effort.
The marriage records definitely vary from state to state. If you are researching a commonwealth state instead of a regular state, you will find the biggest variation in marriage records. Four of the original fifteen states are classed as a “Commonwealth” - Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The term is derived from “government based on the common consent of the people”. Their marriage records have as many as five different entries in the courthouse. There is a bond posted by the groom stating that there “...is suddenly about to have a wedding...” Followed by the clerk’s license and register in the ledger for the wedding. In many cases, the guardian must give consent to the wedding if the bride is under age. Once the marriage is performed, the minister is required to show a return stating that the wedding took place, when and where. Finally, the clerk makes a note in his records that the license was issued and the return was given. It is this latter entry that most of us see in the courthouse. In the Commonwealth states, these are all collected into a bundle and tied up with a red ribbon, or at least most of those during the 1800-1870 time period.
However, there are exceptions with the marriage records. I was in an upper east Tennessee county, once part of Virginia prior to 1796, last week and double checking on an early marriage book I have been transcribing. I discovered that the early marriage records followed the Virginia system closely with various entries for each of the weddings. This is unlike most Tennessee counties where there is hopefully at least the clerk’s ledger. There were bonds, licenses and returns given for many of the very early marriages.
Deed Records are also important in placing your ancestors in a particular place and time. I was helping a friend with his family once and we went to the courthouse where his families’ records were kept. He assured me there was nothing in the courthouse that pertains to his family. After all, he had paid a professional genealogist to research his family and they reported there was nothing in the courthouse of interest about his family. I started with the deed files and found three entries in the deeds concerning his grandfather. We later found many more references to his family in the same courthouse. Nothing beats your own leg work digging through the records.
Don’t overlook the tax listings in a courthouse. Some of the entries on the tax list are totally unexpected. I have seen the statement, “...John Smith, son of Albert...”. This usually occurs when there are multiple families of the same name. In some cases, they will list them as “John Smith of Greasy Ridge Community” vs the John Smith that lives in the major town. Taking this with the deed records and hopefully the will books, you can easily distinguish which one is your ancestor. You just have to spend a little time in the courthouse to glean a great deal of information.
Once you get through the expected files, then you can began “trolling” around the collection in the vault where the records are kept. You might befriend one of the staff and you will get great help in locating information that you might not expect. In one courthouse I found an automobile registration for 1914-1916. It was interesting just to read the entries and see what the people of importance drove in those days. Even at this age, in many medium size towns, the automobile was important. It would be interesting to find out that grandpa drove a Pierce Arrow or something like that. You can gather from the information, he was first living at the time, and he was a man of means as cars were not cheap. It may have cost $500.00, but this is about what high end cars cost today.
You also might run across the “Scalp” files in the mid-nineteenth century. These were normally for wolves’ scalps. Each one presented was worth a certain fee. At least grandpa was present to fire the gun and he was interested in the money if not the removal of what they considered a pest.
My recent trip to the courthouse emphasized a new trend in court records. Tennessee like many other states, is encouraging each county to establish and separate archives for their records. The county I was in had set up an archives and many of the very early records were housed there. These are normally manned by volunteers due to the hundreds of hours spent in indexing the records and the volunteers know their materials well. This archives was well manned and the records were well filed and kept in great order. Don’t overlook these records. I was looking for a “book” and it was just a collection of files with the original documents inside files. The courthouse did have a copy of the order of the marriages which helped greatly.
Researching the marriage, deed and tax listings are usually on my “to do” list when I head to a courthouse. However, it is the unusual items that I find that makes the trip so valuable and provides the information to create the entire picture of my ancestors.
Marriage, Deeds and Tax Listings
If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at email@example.com.