Courthouse Etiquette and Ordering Information for Genealogical Material

ŪSue Ashby - 2010

County Clerks and employees are, for the most part, very helpful. But,  if you make their job harder, they aren't going to even want to, help you!  So be nice and remember your manners!

County Clerk's jobs are, to record and file official documents of the county and maintain them in an environment that will safely preserve them. As much as we genealogists would like it, they don't exist for us and our "hobby."


When you write for copies of documents:

Tell the clerk which document you need, give them the  name of person, and time period,
If it is a will or a marriage license or even a burial, find out if the document even exists.

(for instance, you might say...):

"Please tell me if you have a will for John Doe, whom I believe died in ( whichever) Co. about (whenever) ,
If this document is found would you please notify me and tell me how much to send you, for a copy?"

If is a very common name or, if you believe there might be more than one person by this name you might tell them what the wife's name was or the children, to help them get the correct will.
The more pages of paper you sent, the more likely that, they may miss something important in finding your document. 

As Joe Friday in "Dragnet", said "Just the facts Ma'm"

When you are notified whether the document exists, you will be told how much to send.

When you call the courthouse:

If you are calling about the material, it is the same format, as above.
But, don't expect the clerk to do the look up and get the material contained in the document, over the phone.
In fact, it is best, just to write.


If you go in Person:

County clerks can be very nice and helpful (at least they certainly have been to me!

Don't go in asking for "everything" they have on your family.  Do your homework before you go in and have your facts and dates at hand so your time will be well spent and fruitful!

If you are on a fishing expedition, then tell the clerk so, and find out how you need to proceed.
If you are trying to find out if this person existed in the county, then you need to look in census records, and other published documents in the county or city and county library BEFORE even going to the courthouse. It's kind of embarrassing to ask for someone and discover they weren't even from there...
Ask for the documents needed, stating all known data about it (see above)
They will take you to the area, containing your request material and then make copies of it or let you make copies, when you find it.
OR, in some cases and courthouses, they will take the information you give them and go get the book(s) or decouments needed for you and make the copy you need.
Always, remember that even though you think YOUR family is fascinating, others probably won't think so.  <sigh>  <sob>