Ohio’s Orphans Court Records?

TOCIf you are like me, you scratched your head when you read something about Orphan Court records in Ohio. Isn’t Orphans Court something they have in other states, like Pennsylvania and Delaware? Yes, it is. But it’s also something that existed briefly in Ohio. Today, I had a chance to flip through an awesome, four-volume Ohio resource: Carrington Tanner Marshall’s History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio. If you are serious about Ohio research, and want to know the details of Ohio’s court system at any given time, this is the resource for you.

The Orphans Court was established June 16, 1795. Orphans Court was not a part of Probate Court nor even a separate judicial body, but instead, the functions of the court were performed by the Court of General Quarter Sessions. The court could supervise guardians, trustees, executors, administrators, and other people who cared for minors’ property. The court also had the power to recall administrators and enforce proper estate distribution.

The court was not the adversarial court we think of today, with plaintiffs and defendants arguing their positions. Rather, the court was inquisitorial. Judges were fact-finders, and their findings were considered proof. Orphans Court had the power to revoke rights of administration, and Probate Court had no alternative other than to appoint a new administrator or appeal to the General Court of the Territory.

So what’s become of these records? Within the territory that is now part of Ohio, there were nine counties, each of which had a Probate Court and an Orphans Court. According to the treatise, the only county whose Orphans Court records appear to survive is Washington County. Those records are held in Marietta College’s Special Collections.1

So the next time you are at a party and want to impress your friends, assuming your friends are total genealogy geeks like us, let them know about Ohio’s Orphan’s Court. If you want to be more geeky, be sure to check out this awesome resource for Ohio’s judicial history. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  1. All information in this post is from  Carrington Tanner Marshall, History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio, 4 vols. (New York : American Historical Society, 1934), 1:409. []
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One Response to Ohio’s Orphans Court Records?

  1. Thanks, Chris! Those out of state should know that the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne has all four volumes of Marshall’s book, as do the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Library of Michigan (microfiche). Also, check out the Newberry’s on-line Atlas of Historical County Boundaries to see just how many present-day counties Washington County covered back in the territorial day.

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