Local Deed and Clerk Offices

Shifting from an almost exclusive Internet and family memorabilia research approach to visiting city and county government offices provided some insights and take-aways this past summer.   Both the government office process and policies along with located hidden gems were valuable learnings.

First, government deed and clerk office insights.  As it turns out they all had one policy in common, however, enforced with different degrees of fastidiousness.  Basically, no cell phone pictures of their records.  Period.  All records you would like copies of they insist on providing for typically about $1 each.  Your other official choice is to sit in their offices and manually capture the index or record contents, like write it down or type it in.

This is an interesting policy given that these genealogically significant indexes and records are typically 100-175 years old.   And touching them is not the issue, it is taking a picture of them, flash off or whatever, it makes no difference.   I never could quite get the policy rationale but clerks may not even know.

In addition, the copies made for you are not incredibly legible, plus there is something to be said for the records surrounding say a death record.  For example, in one case it was pretty clear that Grand Traverse county had a major outbreak of cholera, but no history books had brought that forward.    Much easier to understand the times our ancestors experienced with this insight.

So what to do with these government office restrictions?   Family buying and selling of Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Wexford county land was in the 200+deed range.  Similarly the birth, marriages and deaths were numerous.  Therefore, employing a combination of methods seemed best.  A bit of paying for coping services, a lot of discretely taken iPhone pictures (sound off, flash off, check for watchers), some writing and typing index information, some just reviewing the records while there and not capturing the record but trying to remember the gist for future needs.

Nonetheless, process aside, the information contained in the deeds and vital records was much more valuable than expected.   Shifting from a once per decade snapshot using censuses to a blow-by-blow land and mortgage purchase or sale fundamentally creates a more nuanced and complete story.  Similarly getting death reasons, final addresses, informants and marital status upon death provided a lot of detailed knowledge not generally available for these older records otherwise.  Hidden in these records were references to court proceedings and probate records that connected to a trail of additional first-hand information.

Upshot:  physically going to government offices is time consuming and can be frustrating but for some family stories the juice is worth the squeeze.  Just be prepared and focused for the best result.  And do use your iPhone discretely. 😉

©copyright 2018 by Elizabeth Scott Wright

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