Courthouse Genealogy

The first time I remember feeling the Spirit was when I learned that families could be sealed together for all of eternity. It should not be surprising, then, that I have a deep love of genealogy and truly enjoy researching my family tree. As a young mom, however, I have restricted most of my efforts thus far to the internet. A recent courthouse trip – my first – taught me a few lessons.

For years, I have found nothing but a solid brick wall in regards to my great-great-great grandparents. I did not even know their name, only that of their son, who was born in West Virginia. I keep promising myself to obtain a copy of that birth record but I have yet to work genealogy into our somewhat tight budget. Furthermore, I suspected that he was born one county because I had found him there at age four (as servant to another family), but I didn’t know for sure – which means I could have spent a lot of money searching every county.

At the same time, my dad is a great source of aggravation to me (and this is his line). You see, his family has been in the same area for around 200 years. He lives five minutes from the courthouse where countless family records are stored. Of course, this means he has no interest whatsoever in genealogy. I have asked him if he would be wiling to stop by and copy a record and he says he might – but never does. Of course, when we travel up there, we are usually busy visiting family.

But on my last trip, I had enough. My husband was working, so it was just me and four kids – ranging from five years down to four weeks – and I was determined to solve the mystery of my thrice great grandparents. I decided to visit the courthouse with all four kids in tow. You see, my great-great-grandfather was married there, and I had hopes that he had listed his parents on the marriage certificate. I made careful notes about his marriage, which I knew took place in a five year window (between the birth of his last child in his first marriage and the birth of the first child in his second marriage). I envisioned myself paging through five years of records, searching for the elusive information.

When I finally got inside the courthouse (after my stroller fell apart, but that’s a whole nother story), one of the clerks led me to the area I needed to be in. “This is the index,” she told me. “You look for the last name you need, then flip to your page.”

She flipped to the page I needed at random.

“Then, you go over to that drawer,” she pointed, “and find the record.”

I walked over to the drawer, and there were several marriage certificates rubberbanded together. I found the group I needed. Halfway through, one stuck out. Since I could tell that my certificate would be closer to the middle, I flipped to that one.

I bet you’d be surprised to learn it was my great-great-grandfather’s marriage certificate.

I pulled it out and made a copy. There on the list was not only the names of his parents, but also the county of his birth. I literally had tears in my eyes as I held that paper.

Of course, all courthouse genealogy won’t be so easy. I firmly believe that these relatives truly wanted to be found. Still, even without the random flip and the obvious certificate, it would only have taken me a few minutes more to find the information I needed. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had spent fifteen minutes reassembling my stroller and thus had used up my kids surplus of sit-stilledness (or if I had had the forethought to bring them something to do!), I would have looked up more information.

I was shocked and amazed at just how easy it was to find these branches on my family tree. I already told my husband that, on our next trip (which will be over a weekday), he gets to watch the kids for about two hours while I make a courthouse run. If he can’t make it, I’m going to call the ward down there and find a young woman or someone to come with me and help with the kids.

Sometimes we think of genealogy as this great, difficult thing to do. And sometimes it is. But sometimes, it can be very quickly accomplished.

As long as your stroller doesn’t fall apart on you.

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