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Confessions of a Courthouse Newbie
9/25/2009
Never paged through probates in the halls of justice? Join the club. We sent a fellow first-timer to scout out the territory and show you the ropes.
OK, I confess: I was a Courthouse Virgin. Except to get a marriage license and register our wills and automobiles, I had only a passing acquaintance with the great American institution known as the county courthouse. I'd certainly never visited a courthouse on a genealogical mission.

The reason's simple: I'd never had to. The records I've needed so far in my research have been available on the Internet, in libraries or on microfilm from my local Family History Center. Much of my research has been on ancestral places far from my own home, anyway, so showing up at my ancestral courthouse wasn't a practical option. I'd been able to write away for various birth, death and marriage certificates from my father's Illinois hometown, for example.

Still, I knew the day would come when the only way around one of those blasted genealogical “brick walls” would be through a courthouse door. Some records just can't be obtained any other way. I also knew that exploring in person — where you can make connections, follow up on leads and generally play genealogy detective — can solve puzzles that resist other approaches.

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