A while ago, I posted about Using FamilySearch’s Ohio Databases As Finding Aids. This week, I discovered a new trick that might save you some time and maximize your efficiency should you be researching at the Lorain County Probate Court. It certainly would have saved ME time had I figured it out before I left.
First, the Lorain County Probate Court is a very nice place to research. This was my first trip there, and I have a love/hate relationship with learning my way around new places. I love the challenge of figuring out new indexing systems, ways to use the resources efficiently and creatively, and developing workarounds where odd indexes throw roadblocks in the path of my research. The downside is all that takes time away from the actual research. The two clerks I dealt with at the courthouse were exceptionally willing to help, and truly interested in helping guide me to solutions.
However, I have to take a minute here to remind you that it is YOUR responsibility as a researcher to know something about the records in which you are working. In this case, I was looking for marriage records for the mid-1800s. Having located the volume and page number for the marriages I needed in the FamilySearch “Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958″ database (more on that in a minute), I figured it would be a matter of finding that particular volume on microfilm, flipping to that page, and printing it off. Sure enough, I found the volume, found the page, and on that page was the application I needed. Great…right? Almost.
There were no returns recorded with the applications in this volume. I discovered that they had been filmed, but were in the back of the book after all of the applications. After trying to figure out how the returns were organized, I could see that they were in roughly chronological order, but not at all strictly chronological order. It would seem that they were recorded as the various ministers or JP’s submitted their records in groups. After going page by page for awhile, being surprised by the number of people who married in that time frame, I decided to ask the clerks’ advice rather than waste time trying to figure it out on my own.
The first clerk took a look at the application I printed, and told me that “that was all there is.” Many times, employees you deal with at the courthouses are not knowledgeable about the records with which we deal. Older records are a very, very small part of what they do. It is our responsibility as researchers to know that without a return, there is no proof that the marriage was actually took place. It is also our responsibility to clearly explain exactly what we need in a diplomatic fashion. I showed the clerk the section where the returns were recorded so she could see that there were in fact separate returns. She called over another clerk who knew a little more about the older records. Unfortunately, she told me that she would be doing the same thing I was – trying to locate them chronologically.
In this particular case, I got lucky. After flipping ahead to a likely beginning spot to resume my search, I found the return I was looking for within a few pages. The rest of the marriage records I needed were less eventful – having been recorded on the pre-printed books that contained the application and return side-by-side. After finding what I had come for, I spent a few minutes browsing around to see what sorts of other things were in there: Bound volumes of probate birth and death records, an estate index book to the microfilmed files, and a few other indexes. They also have a few computers available that you can search the computerized indexes. It didn’t seem that the marriages are completely indexed in the computerized files, but the estates are, and can be accessed at home at http://www.loraincounty.com/probate/search.shtml. Their collection of probate microfilm appeared to be a complete collection of all of the records created by the court that have been archived on microfilm.
On the ride home I remembered that within the database search results, there was more than one result for the same marriage. When I got back, I re-searched the database for the marriage I had trouble with. There were actually four results for this marriage. Two seemed to be a copy for some other project or use. They contained the same extracted information, but the reference numbers didn’t make any sense – at least to me. The other two hits, had I paid attention to both, would have saved some time.
The first reference was this:
The second result was this:
When I looked at the page number for this second reference, it was the reference to the return. These returns are not indexed at the courthouse anywhere that I could find – nor that the the clerks were aware. So take note of this and save yourself some time at the courthouse. I’m not sure if this is exclusive to this particular record group, or if this applies to other areas and records as well. But if in your searches, you get similar, multiple references, be sure to print out or note both.
Interestingly, according to the film number references in the screenshots, the application and return appear on different rolls of FHL microfilm and show different dates of records than the film did at the courthouse. At the courthouse, the applications and returns were on the same roll of film, which was itself labeled differently. Clearly this is a case where you have to be careful to cite exactly what source you are using so that you and others will be able to go back and find these records again if need be in the future.
I hope you will find this tip of use in your research. One of the things I always strive to improve is maximizing my efficiency on-site. This is just another one of those internet tools available to researchers to set themselves up to be a retrieval machine upon arrival at the courthouse.