April 7, 2012
Regardless of the information you find online regarding your family tree, keep in mind public records and family Bibles are the most reliable. They are legally binding as proof what you’re recording into your family tree software is true. Sure, mistakes may be made, but they are few and far between.
Ask the elder members of your family if a family Bible exists. Unfortunately, many have been destroyed by house fires over the years.
One of the Bibles in my family was owned by my grandfather’s sister. I’ve never seen it, but have copies of a few of the pages. It listed births, deaths, and places of burial for the family. I don’t know where it is, as the copies were sent to me by a cousin back in the 1980’s. A lot of people on www.ancestry.com show photos taken of information recorded in the Bible as it’s a legal reference.
Courthouse records are also legal references regarding wills, marriages, and land deeds. The probate office in the county your ancestor lived is a good place to start. Here you’ll find marriage documents and wills. Usually, copies can be made of any of these documents for a small fee.
The drawback to court records has sadly been their destruction by fire. Many courthouses have burned down in the years since wills were kept. Some of these courthouses lost more than a century of valuable records in the day before copies were made by the courthouse and stored online for safety.
Before beginning any courthouse search, it’s helpful to ask whether a fire has destroyed any of their records.
Wills are very important. They may list family members forgotten by the family. They not only tell who got what after a persons death, they hint at the lifestyle the family led. It’s easy to tell whether a family was rich or poor by the information offered in their will. A will is an excellent document for finding property owned by an ancestor. That information is helpful when you visit the office to check for property deeds.
Marriage records are important in finding the date of marriage and the full name of those involved. They also may tell how many previous marriages a person had. From this record, you’ll be able to enter full name, date, and place of marriage, and (in some cases) know how many previous spouses.
To search for property you should visit the Clerk of Court’s office. This has the property description, location and sale records. A lot of times property was sold for only a few dollars to a family member. It’s possible to tie many families together using the land deeds. It was common for a father to grant land to a daughter’s new husband at the time of their marriage.
This fact is very helpful in finding ancestors from the early 1800’s and before. The U.S. census records at this time would only list the head of the family and then check off age and sex of each child without listing a name.
I’ll use my great-great-great grandfather as an example. In the 1830 census record, there’s a daughter listed as under the age of five to Levi Taylor. That’s all I know about her as no names were given. This situation had been corrected by the 1860 U.S. Census when everyone in the household is listed by name. I’ve never found her. I’m currently checking into some land change records to research if one of the properties may have changed hands to her husband.
It’s a good idea to take any copies you’ve made, as well as those collected from online sources and put them online at a central site for safe keeping. I also upload copies of death certificates, which can be ordered from the Department of Health in most counties as well as found for sale online.
Sites such as ancestry.com have birth and death certificates on file as well as wills and land deeds. So a courthouse visit isn’t the most time efficient option. It’s still nice to hold an original document in your hands knowing it’s an important record into the history of your family.
There may be an occasional mistake in a family Bible. Chances are the public records are correct. The dates and places on these should take priority above any you find online that doesn’t have a source to back it up.