News from around the web.
Go to Source
But it was kind of a bust, genealogically speaking—no new information and some red
I did learn a few things about courthouse research, though. If that’s what’s on your
genealogy to-do list, these tips might help:
1. Ask a local. Cleveland genealogist and Family
Tree University instructor Diana Crisman Smith gave me the lowdown on the Cuyahoga
County courthouse, parking and other details. If you don’t know someone knowledgeable
about the place you’re headed, see if the local genealogical society has an online
2. Have backup parking plans. The parking garage was full, so I drove around
downtown and finally snagged the last space in a surface lot. Smaller towns might
not have the same issues.
3. Be as prepared as possible. The Cuyahoga County probate court has an online
docket you can search to find the case file numbers you need.
Other ways to be prepared: Call ahead and make sure there isn’t a furlough day or
special holiday on the day you plan to go. See if there are any restrictions on what
you can bring (such as pens or backpacks). Bring cash for parking, copy fees and other
3. Don’t be afraid to ask. I’m sure things work differently in every courthouse,
but there was a procedure here. And there was no hand-holding, so I had to ask. I
was told to write the case number on a request card for a clerk to retrieve the file.
But for my relatively recent probate files (1980s and 90s), I was to use the computers
to get microfilm numbers, then pull the film.
I thought all the microfilm readers were equally bad, but I should have asked about
that too—a clerk walked by and showed me a better reader. Because the computerized
docket didn’t extend back as far as my great-grandfather’s death, I had to ask about
any earlier files, too (and unfortunately, I found out the court didn’t have anything
4. Keep a smile on your face. Even if you think you’re bugging someone with
your questions, a smile increases your chances of getting the help you need (as does
a succinctly worded question).
5. Bring a camera. There was no place to photocopy the microfilmed records,
so I photographed the reader’s screen with my cell phone.
I don’t have a tip for this situation: The file I most wanted to look for, a 1924
commitment hearing for my great-grandmother to the Cleveland State Hospital, was confidential—if
it exists. Disappointing.
I politely asked enough questions (is it possible to request a search just to see
if there’s a file? how long are the records closed? what’s the law declaring them
closed? what’s the procedure for having a file opened?) that I got to speak with a
magistrate. He complimented my interest in genealogy, asked about my family history,
and said that if the record exists—and chances are slim—the only way to have it opened
would be a change in the law.
In the excellent book Annie’s
Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret, journalist Steve Luxenberg describes
his quest to uncover 1940s-era institutional records in Michigan for an aunt he’d
only recently learned he had. I don’t think I want to let this drop quite yet, but
I’m also not sure I’m ready for a struggle like Luxenberg’s. I’ll dig a little and
maybe be able to offer tips in the future.