Genealogy

Court Records for Your Genealogical Search

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Bedford County Courthouse, 17 July 2019

One of the many types of records that can be beneficial for your genealogical search is court records. “Court records include information about adoption, debt, divorce, naturalization, lawsuits, guardianships and appointments. Probate records relate to the death of an ancestor and the distribution of their estate. These records often include wills, inventories, accounts, bonds, etc.” (from the PBS “Genealogy Roadshow” web page).

Why Court Records are Important

Court records are important on your family history journey because they inform you of family relationships, locations, land ownership, occupations, and descriptions of individuals.  For those of African American heritage, court records are critical as they include slaves and slave relationships. Courthouses also can have the registration of free blacks as well as marriages and slave children (from “Genealogy Roadshow“).

Tips for a Successful Search

When going in search of court records it is best to have a plan.  Below are some steps that will hopefully lead you to a successful trip to the county courthouse.

1. Have an Objective

Don’t go into a courthouse expecting to fly by the seat of your pants.  You must have a clearly stated goal of what it is you are seeking when you visit so you are not wasting your time, or those who work at the Courthouse.

Information that you can find on your ancestors include:

  • Your ancestor could have been a juror, witness, victim, defendant or plaintiff in a civil or criminal court case
  • Naturalization applications
  • Pension affidavits
  • Divorce filings, separation or paternity claims
  • Property records
  • Tax records for personal property
  • Estate records
  • Vital records

All of the above were records that were at one time found at courthouses.  Today there may be other places where you can find this information.  Vital records, for example, might be found at county health departments, or older records may have been consolidated at the state capital (this is the situation for Ohio, birth certificates have no restrictions and can be accessed at our health department, however death certificates from 1908-1953 can be found on FamilySearch, 1954-1963 can be found at the Ohio History Connection, the state historical society, and you can purchase for $7.75 which includes tax; 1964-present are available at the health department of the county where the person died; birth certificates can be retrieved from anywhere in the state from 1908 to the present).

2. Do Research Before Leaving Your Home

When you are getting ready to do a courthouse visit, make sure you research where the records are before you go so you haven’t gone to the wrong place for the records you need.  Most county courthouses have websites (or at least the counties do) and it will often tell you exactly where the records you need are located.

If the website is vague, call or even email the person you think lines up with what you are looking for and ask.  I know last year when I went to Bedford County I had emailed someone in advance just to make sure I didn’t need an appointment before just showing up.  I didn’t but they also told me (as I commented about how I was travelling from Ohio) that they had online access that I could also use for a fee.  I was able to get a bunch of needed records about my ancestors that I could find there (and the ladies that work there were extremely friendly and helpful), but as I find other information for non-direct line ancestors, I keep a list so I can look those people up online.

But not everything may be in the courthouse, by calling in advance of when you’re going to be there, they may have records in a storage facility and by calling they could make sure what you are looking for is on-site for your visit.

Also, make sure you have done your due diligence with boundaries and where the information was located at the time you are looking for.  Counties are formed all the time (well, not so much now but 150 years ago counties were still being formed within states).  Make sure that information you are looking for is where you think it should be.  I know in Pennsylvania Blair County was one of the latter counties to be formed in the south western portion of the state, so land and tax records of your ancestor in 1860 that is Blair County could be in Bedford County 20 years prior because Blair county was formed in 1846.

Lastly, make sure that some of your information is not already online with one of the subscription sites.  As I mentioned before, Ohio death certificates can be found on FamilySearch from 1908-1953.  Sometimes you have to go person by person because the transcribed name may not match up, but they are there (warning: they go in clumps via county and time of death in a year – so you may have a bunch of May deaths together and they are all arranged alphabetically by county, I would often just jump ahead every 25-50 names to get through counties I knew I did not need). Pennsylvania birth certificates from 1906-1910 and Pennsylvania Death Certificates from 1906-1967 can be found on Ancestry.  Birth certificates from 1911-1914 can be purchased from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission for $5 per certificate (I recently purchased my grandparents birth certificates in January of this year, my grandfather was born in 1912 and my grandmother in 1914).

3. Evaluating Your Finds

Remember, you are going to a courthouse to find court records and they will be riddled with legalese you may not understand.  It may take a few readings to figure out the true meaning of the document, as well as figuring out the lingo of a hundred years ago. You may also have difficulty with penmanship, big words and bad writing can make for a big headache.

You will also want to make sure you record your findings, along with what you did not find.  Sometimes this will be a clue as to where you can look next, or inserting it into a timeline may give you insight on why an event occurred (person moved, went to prison, etc.).

(More info on the above points can be found at Family Tree Magazine)

4. Manners Matter

In so many ways genealogy can be a casual hobby but when you plan on heading to the courthouse you should make sure that you dress nicely (casual chic would work great here, if not in a more professional manner) and that you show respect to those working.  Some of the people you will be dealing with are elected officials, but more importantly these people are helping you, so make sure you go out of your way to be grateful for what they are doing for you.

(This last point I added from an article at GenealogyBank).

Enjoy The Moment

This might seem like an odd point but you are going to be messing with books and records that could be hundreds of years old.  Even if they are copies, it can still be exciting to be working with these old records.  Some may even have your person’s signature on them, and that could just be about as thrilling as it could be – especially if you are like me and find yourself having favorite relatives (I do).

Digging up information of any kind about your people is extremely satisfying.  Enjoy the moment but make sure you stick to the plan you have laid out for yourself.

Stay focused and have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week #6: The Same Name

This week’s topic for 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Week’s is the Same Name.  Do you have ancestors with the same name?  You know the ones, they drive you crazy because they are all back to back to back and you aren’t sure which ancestor they are talking about because they are father and son and they overlap.

I have the same name.  Andrew Jackson.  Andrew Jackson is a name that turns up on both my paternal and maternal sides of my dad’s side of the family.  On my Blair side I my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather are both Andrew Jackson Blair’s with my great-great-great-grandfather being Andrew (he may be an Andrew Jackson as well but I’ve not had any confirmed documentation stating such).  Then on my grandma’s side I have a great-great-great-grandfather named Andrew Jackson Morgart.

Andrew Jackson Blair (1881-1926)

The first Andrew Jackson Blair I will discuss was my great-grandfather.  No one alive today ever knew him as he died before any of his grandchildren were born.  Andrew was a miner and died when rock began falling within one of the mines and it crushed his chest.  His brother-in-law, Abraham Childers, was injured when the ligaments in his leg were torn.

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Above is the only photo known to have been taken of my great-grandfather.  The story is that it was taken as a group shot of his Sunday School class and they managed to snip him out of the group shot so we have it. When I was sent this photo a few months ago I was so happy, I love seeing what my relatives looked like.

I have never found any marriage record yet of when my great-grandparents wed.  But using Newspapers.com I have been able to piece together their marriage date of March 19, 1906.

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Bedford Gazette, Friday, March 23, 1906

Andrew, or AJ as I have seen him regarded as often, was buried in South Fork Cemetery.

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Andrew Jackson Blair (1851-1899)

I don’t know a whole lot about my great-great-grandfather.  He was born in March 1851 in Cambria County, Pennsylvania and passed away of a Paralytic Stroke on June 20, 1899 in Bedford County, PA.  On the 1870 Census he was still living at home and was a woodchopper but in the 1880 census he had married the former Susan Jane Foster and had 3 children, all girls, and was a miner.  In the 1880’s he and his wife would have 3-boys and 2-girls to add to the mix, bringing their total children to 9.

Andrew is actually buried in Duvall Cemetery, which is on the land of his wife’s great-grandfather, Basil Foster. I didn’t see his grave when I visited last year, but I also was unaware of his being buried there until my final day in Pennsylvania when I discovered his death record at the Bedford County Courthouse.

Andrew Blair (@1812 – After 1880)

Andrew Blair is my 3rd-great-grandfather and also one of my biggest brick walls (the other is his wife, Susannah (Suzanna) Akers and his son, George Washington Blair).  Though he isn’t an Andrew Jackson, he is the Andrew that at least began it all (or so I think). I can honestly say I’ve not gotten any further than just the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses for my great-great-great-grandparents.  His occupation is just a laborer, and he rented his home so there is no land ownership.  In 1850 he lived in Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, then in 1860 he lived in Huston Township in Blair County, and in 1870 and 1880 he lived in Bedford County, first in Broad Top Township and then in Coaldale.

Along with a vague occupation, I have no definitive birth or death date for this elusive man.  One day I will find out more about my ancestor – it will just take time and plenty of patience.

Andrew Jackson Morgart (1824 – 1870)

On my grandmother’s side of the family is my 3rd-great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Morgart.  This Andrew Jackson was a farmer who lived in West Providence in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. On June 4, 1847 he married his wife, the former Rebecca O’Neal whom he had 10 children with, I’m an offspring of his oldest son, George Washington Morgart.

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Photo of Andrew Jackson Morgart by Teri Graham that was uploaded onto FamilySearch.org

He died August 19, 1870.  According to his obituary he must have been sick for a spell as death was not unexpected, but at the same time he was only 46-years-old.  Wow, that’s the same age I am, but he was actually younger as I’ll be 47 next week.

To Sum It Up

To my knowledge, these are all the Andrew Jackson’s in my family.  Now, Andrew Jackson Morgart did have a grandson named Charles Jackson but that’s another story for another time.

I guess the most fascinating part of having all these Andrew Jackson’s in my family is that in college I took a class entitled Jefferson to Jackson where it focused on the history of the United States while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson where president.  During this time period Andrew Jackson was such a hero, saving our new country from the British in the War of 1812 which led to his presidency.  But I so disliked Andrew Jackson, still dislike him to this day.  It would just figure that I have all these relatives named after him.

Though a part of me would love for my Andrew Blair to be an Andrew Jackson Blair too – as he was born in 1812 (maybe sooner) it could possibly make it a family name and not in honor of the famous war hero.

But I am going to have to break down that brick wall first.

Genealogy, My Family Tree

My Research Trip Days 2 & 3

So if you read my previous post, you know that I had quite a day going from one cemetery to the next finding my direct line ancestors on my dad’s side of the family.

But day two was fun as I spent most of the day at the Bedford County Historical Society.  I went with a plan but the ladies there knew so much more than I did and truly made me feel not so knowledgeable about my family (but in a good way).  Gillian, the director, knew so much about my Morgart side, showing me maps with their names on it from the Bedford area.  Next thing she was giving me the information about Peter Morgart and his part in the Whiskey Rebellion, and it just went on and on.  Huge binders full of family tree information others had done before me of my ancestors and their descendants.  I was in awe and when we left I told my husband I was so unprepared for how much they knew.  All I kept thinking about was all my webinars and how I needed to stay focused and how I did anything but stay focused.  I will definitely go there again and be better prepared when I return.

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Next, we headed to Jean Bonnet’s Tavern for dinner.  The food was delicious, I had crab and shrimp topped salmon with a baked potato and steamed broccoli. I believe my husband had the beef tenderloin.  We left stuffed but so happy we had the experience.  Jean Bonnet’s Tavern was built in the 1760’s so it was just fun to eat where maybe my ancestors did (not all as I’m sure they were in competition with the Morgart Tavern).

After dinner, we drove by the Espy House which is where George Washington had his headquarters when he came to Bedford County in 1794 during the Whiskey Rebellion.  Yes, chills once again as George may have walked where I was now riding (it really doesn’t take much to get me excited about George).

After this, we went out and found the Bedford Springs Hotel as it was one of the places to stay back in the day.  Supposedly the water had (has?) medicinal purposes.  It’s still quite majestic today in its appearance.

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The next day we did a little bit of sightseeing as this area is the home of the Flight 93 Memorial from the happenings of September 11, 2001.  The quiet and the breeze that seemed to be non-stop there was just eerie.  You couldn’t help but feel the specialness of all those aboard who decided to defend freedom.

Next up was the Bedford County Courthouse where I went armed with my checklist of names I wanted to run by with property listings as well as wills/probate records.  I was so impressed as I was able to find something on most of my ancestors that were on my list.  If you have relatives, don’t feel shy about going in, the girls that work in the records department are very nice and were so helpful.

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On our last night there we met with my second cousin Hope and had dinner.  She was also kind enough to show me some spots in St. Michael where my great-grandmother lived as well as the bank where my Grandmother worked (I often remember her telling me she got paid like a nickel to clean the place – I may be off on how much she was paid but I know it wasn’t much).  I guess the bank is now where the residents of St. Michael, Pennsylvania pay their utility bills.  I meant to take a photo of Hope too, but as soon as we got to her house she wished us well and sent us on our way and I was a block or two away when I turned to my husband and said, “I wanted a photo with Hope”.

I thought my first research trip went really well.  I was able to find a lot of information that I was seeking but still had so many more questions when I returned.  I only had three days so I did my best to keep my focus but on future trips I know I’ll do my best to seek information on more than just my direct descendants, and hopefully, I’ll have more time to even visit other relatives that actually live in the area too.