Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Researching at the Courthouse

Last blog I mentioned two rules I use to make a research trip rewarding - KNOW BEFORE YOU GO and PACK EFFICIENTLY.  Just back from researching in several states and in various libraries and archives so I'm going to share what worked for me at the different locations I visited.
My first stop in Pennsylvania was the Chambersburg (Franklin County seat) Courthouse.  I had called ahead to verify the times the facility was open and that the old deeds and wills I needed were available.  I knew the cost of the copies and how they accepted payment (cash/credit/debit).  I knew which building (there's an old and new courthouse) and what department and the floor I needed to go to.  I also asked where I should park.  This allowed me to save time and money when I arrived.
I had also previously identified what the deed dates I was interested in finding by using an index on Familysearch.org.  I had ordered the film for the actual deeds but when it arrived in June, it didn't contain them.  Sometimes the films are mislabeled and you don't get what you expect.  One of the films did have a deed but it was of such poor quality I couldn't read most of the page no matter how I tried to play with it.  I was hoping for a better copy.  I also knew exactly what Will Book and page I needed based on an index I found on Ancestry.com.
Since the area was just north of the Mason-Dixon line I wondered what the family I was researching's views were during the Civil War when they lived in the area.  I had a hunch but hunches are useless without a document to back it up so I also wanted to check out if any voter's records survived.
So, in this complex of one stop, I had 3 missions - a will, deeds and voter's records.
My necklace did set off security which was odd since it didn't at the airport.  Next time, no jewelry! When I entered the Recorder's Office I introduced myself to the clerical worker and ask for directions to secure what I need.
Directed to a computer I was able to pull 5 deeds in 5 minutes.  The printer was a little slow so while it was still printing, I asked about finding the will.
This is not the first time I tried to find the will - I've been to the site before and I hired a researcher to also try to find it.  Again, I was told it was lost.  This time, I whipped out my business card and asked to speak with the head of the facility.  I explained to this gracious woman why it was so critical that I find this document and asked if I could go into the basement where the originals were stored as I believed that the will had been misfiled.  She informed me policy prohibited anyone but employees from going into the basement.  I showed her an email I had received from the state archivist that showed, according to their records, the will was located in the basement.  I suggested that the box of wills be brought upstairs and I would go through them to make sure that it wasn't misfiled.  She agreed and sent an employee to bring up the box.  All 3 of us went through the box and sadly, it was not there.
Had I been allowed in the basement, I would have gone through every box but that wasn't going to happen as I had pushed it to just have one box brought upstairs.  There is still some hope as the missing document was placed on the "missing list" that a county archivist maintains and if it is discovered, I will be contacted.
The deeds also turned out to not be for the person that I was researching but that's okay, I have additional information on a related line and the one poor copy I had from the Family History Library microfilm was readable and what I needed.  Two down, one to go!
It was a short walk from one building to the next (and through security again - this time my jewelry didn't set off the alarm!) to the voter's registration office.  The clerk told me that by law, only 10 years of records needed to be maintained so none were available for the years I wanted.  She suggested that I go to the historical society as she wasn't sure when the law was passsed and perhaps, they had older records.  That was my next stop and just around the corner!  Stay tuned...

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