Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 8, Number 18 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 October 5, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss finding those unusual records in the courthouse. I love to travel in the fall to the Courthouses as the leaves are starting to turn colors and there is a chill in the air. These unusual records can give information about your ancestor that you can't find elsewhere and also give you a better picture of their life.
As always, I enjoy hearing your comments.
James L. Douthat
TRAVELIN' Now that the summer heat is behind us and the weather is starting to cool down, it is the time of year to travel. Let’s take a trip to the courthouse and study your notes and records for just one or two of your ancestors. I find that when I go to a library or courthouse it is more productive if I have only one or two things in mind. I know for certain that if I go just to see what is there, I normally come up empty handed. I have said before that on occasion I have been to the library on fishing trips where I go just to see what I can find, but even then I usually have something in mind that I want to find. In a few rare cases, I have found something totally unexpected and been surprised.
For your next courthouse trip, why not focus on some the unusual records that are there. Some courthouses have “Bastardy” records. We have one set of Bastardy records for some North Carolina counties. When I have this volume at workshops, people will pick up the copy, blush, and quickly scan the index for the names of interest. Then they will tell me with a flushed face, “I hope they are not in here, but I’ll take them wherever I find them.” In most cases, the mother is listed and sometimes the child. In the case of North Carolina, the county wanted to know who was going to take care of the upkeep of the child. A number of other persons will then sign the record as being willing to care for the child until it reaches adulthood. If there is an unidentifiable name in the list they might be the father or not, but it bears further investigation. Most of the time, those who sign are relatives of the woman. Be sure to copy as much of the information as possible.
Another set of records, less frequently checked are the “Guardianship” records. These records give information about a child whose father and/or mother has died and usually money has been left to care for the child/children. Another person is given the task of caring for the child/children until they come of age. A report has to be submitted to the courts each year of the accounting of the money spent on the child/children. In most cases, the parent/parents of the child/children is given and in some cases dates when the guardianship started and the age of each of the children involved. Expenses might include clothing, boarding, or schooling for that child. The real value of these records is to establish relationships between the orphan and their parents.
Hidden in some of the files in the courthouse are the “Naturalization” records for some individuals. Over the years, the role of naturalization has gone through many different phases. Sometimes these records are handled on a local basis or on the county basis. As a general rule, these are now handled through the Federal Courts. Along with the naturalization records, you might find some name changes included. Many times they want to become “Americanized”, and so they choose an American style name. In many cases, this is the only place you will find these. I was on a fishing trip just looking for any information on my wife’s family. In a Court listing of oaths of allegiances, I found a “David Kell”. Since this was a records of immigrations, it also included the ship’s manifest. In comparing the two listings, I found on board ship he was listed as “David Schell”. There was no record given to say he changed his name or if the clerk in the court wrote it as he heard it. But a quick check of the name “Schell” in the area revealed quite a number of them in the surrounding area. More research is now afoot in that area of the country.
Digging a little deeper in the archives of the courthouse, we might find the “wolf-scalp bounties”. This does not sound like a very interesting listing for us, but don’t let the name fool you. In times past, the wolf was a real pest and the county government wanted to clean their lands of them. The simple thing to do was to put a bounty on its head. Farmers and young men around found out this was a quick way for cash money. They were out hunting so why not let the wolf pay the way. Kill a wolf, take the scalp to the courthouse, and get money for the efforts. Sounds good especially when you are helping the area become safer for all citizens. By these records, you place your ancestor in time and place. That is worth the few minutes it takes to check these records. It also helps to round out our story of life in the time of our ancestor.
Also, don’t overlook the “Jury List”. The county courts need able bodied persons to pass judgement on others at times. Often, an ancestor might be listed more than once which tells me he is free to spend the time in the jury box and is respected enough to be asked to serve more than once. This says a lot about those people.
Of course, there are other major lists found in the courthouse that are just as valuable, but don’t overlook these minor listings to help make our ancestor come alive in our minds.
St. Clair County, MO Records - includes wolf scalps
Benton County, TN - Guardian Bonds
Hamilton County, Indiana Naturalizations 1855-1905
If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.