Courthouse Angels

Though I’ve been researching my family for three years, I’ve yet to set foot in a courthouse for research purposes. I’ve watched webinars offering excellent advice, and I have a useful book on the subject by Christine Rose. I’ve even searched plenty of courthouse indices online and at the Family History Library, but since all of my ancestors lived states away from me, I’ve never been able to do courthouse research on my own family lines. I’ve never actually, physically stepped into a courthouse for any reason other than renewing something automotive-related.

Recently, though, I realized this was a serious gap in my genealogy education, and it was high time for this to change; I had been intending to pick a random tombstone from the local cemetery to see what I could do with that, since I have no local lines of my own. Thankfully, the Howe letters loaned to me by the Historical Society provided a better vehicle – three related men who died locally within a 50-year span (1890s-1940s) to go looking for specifically. I won’t just be looking for some random person, I’m looking for something that will help further my project for the society, and will be teaching me necessary research skills besides! Yet another reason I am thrilled to be loaned these letters – it’s teaching me much about proper research and allowing me to expand in areas I never have before. I just never expected how helpful that courthouse visit would be – and I still haven’t searched the probates and wills yet!

When I went to the courthouse earlier this week, I started with the county recorder’s office. They said they did have an index of wills they’d be happy to check for me, and also told me where to go to find the probates, which were in a separate section. Since it was late in the day, I had missed the woman who was in charge of the archives and I would need to return (something I still need to do), but simply finding where to go and what was available was my true aim, anyway, and I was going to be happy with that bit of reconnaissance done. However, I wasn’t expecting to have the luck of talking to the woman who often received such genealogical queries, and someone who actually wanted to know what I was looking for. I’d read endless times to be brief and direct and not take up their valuable time – which I tried to do with ‘Can you please tell me where to access the wills and probates for the 1890s?’ But that wasn’t enough for this delightfully helpful lady. She wanted to know who I was looking for at some length; she even asked me to write down their names and my email so she could contact me if anyone else ever inquired about them. And then she really made my day: she told me she had in her ‘misc. genealogy’ file contact information for a man who’d been looking for one of the Howe men two years prior. Just from the brief email she showed me, I learned two new pieces of information I hadn’t had before and I knew this contact would help me immensely. He clearly knew far more about them than I did. She generously gave it to me, and I began a correspondence with the other researcher, who has, indeed, been able to help me as much as I’d expected. More than I ever expected. Simply because one angel in the courthouse took the time to go that extra mile and help me contact someone I never would’ve found otherwise.

I haven’t even properly begun my courthouse research yet – that’s still to come – but I’m much less intimidated by it all thanks to that courthouse angel. I know I may not always be so lucky, so I will not take this one for granted. I might take her some cookies next time I go in, though…

Have you come across an angel of your own in your research? Leave a comment and let me know about it!

© 2011, copyright Genealady & JustFolks

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