Where are the Original Records?

Genealogy Tips by Jeannette Holland Austin

Pictured is the Bulloch County Court House, Statesboro, Georgia, ca 1894. I started hunting for original court house records in the probate courts in 1964. In Georgia, those records had been microfilmed about ten years or so earlier and were on file at the Georgia State Archives. But I did not see any original documents at the archives, nor mention of them. A court house tour usually involved a thorough search in “the Record Room”. The one thing which I noticed were several types of filing cabinets not available to the public. A closer observation, however, disclosed that most of these documents had been assigned case numbers and were the original wills brought into the court house at the time or probation. It was proof to me that the originals existed and that these originals were copied by the clerk and entered into a book. Since the clerk copied the document, he was subject to mistakes. Hence, the need to view the actual document. At the time I was tracing a family wherein one of the sons was omitted from the last will and testament. Luckily, deeds and other records established the lineage. A re-examination of the will copied by the clerk revealed a grammar problem in the naming of children. Nonetheless, the DAR would not accept the will in question, so other records were used for proofs. How often did this sort of thing occur? Another issue in those days was storage. It was not unusual to see boxes of records sitting upon the floor of a basement.

I do not think it possible to locate an original document today for a number of reasons. During the 1990s I revisited most of the court houses in Georgia. What I witnessed at that time was that old records were sent to storage, either in the basement, or to an outside cold-storage location. Today, upon visiting court houses, it is not unusual for the employees to be completely unaware of the existence of the older record books, etc.

However, there are clues. For example, Bulloch County’s surviving records begin about 1794, but where are they? I found a book of Master Lists, indexing the records in the probate court. These records provide a file number reference; doubtless to me, those folders once housed in filing cabinets! The goodie part is that there is a date “beside the name.”

The alternate for locating the once-existence of older records is the Inferior Court Minutes, which is like a daily diary, noting the business of the court without the information. Yet, these records do say a great deal! One can expect to find anything from a person being removed from the tax records because they wre 60 years old, to the mention of a last will and testament being filed of record on that date. But there are other little diddies, like persons designated to work on designated roads (some descriptions), which was the civic duty of all males over 21 years of age. This is an excellent resource, should you discover one in your time frame.

Bulloch County Records


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