Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween Haunts in Courthouses

There is probably not a more scary, intimidating or spooky place than a county courthouse. In the past sixteen months my experiences in these repositories of government records have proven very rewarding after I got over the initial feelings of intimidation. What is it that draws up these feelings within us? Is it the security search before entering, the forgetting to leave our camera in the car, the long lines just to talk to someone, or the people who linger there waiting for hearings?

The first step for me in facing my fears is to call the courthouse directly and ask to be directed to whoever is in charge of the records that I am seeking. For the most part the clerks are very friendly and willing to look for the desired information if the details for doing so are available. Depending on their time for doing the work, they may call you back, ask you to send an email or ask for you to call after they have enough time for doing the lookup. Some want you to send money before they proceed, but they can direct you to the proper form for doing so and where to send the money. Email communication works very well and allows for keeping a record of the correspondence. They most likely will not be able to send the record as an attachment, but occasionally they do. To my utter amazement one sent a copy of the will within a half hour.

The online indexing of county records enables for much faster location of such records. By using copy and paste of this information in the email ensures they see just what you are seeing. One clerk was very curious as to where the information was found and this was also freely shared. By the responses to my inquiries it would seem that they do not receive many such phone calls or emails. Sometimes the list of phone calls to be made sits on my desk until there is free time during their business hours for an adult like conversation. If they are busy, just ask when is a better time to call.

For one client we were looking for a marriage and a divorce record in Pennsylvania, which does not have an index of such records. After calling four courthouses finally the last clerk was able to find the needed records. Then they required an order form and check be sent for processing the request for the divorce decree. There are more records in the divorce file, but they did not seem very willing to pursue making copies. This may require hiring a local person to retrieve the needed records. Recently after finding the index for Oregon divorce records listed in the Multnomah County Library online catalog, a trip to the library was necessary. This was followed by a trip to the courthouse, where two complete divorce files were accessed and printed by the clerks in the records room. Going in prepared with the complete information for the records being sought certainly shortened the process.

Records offices are not always in the courthouse and there may be different types of record offices depending on the records being sought. Calling ahead is great in determining just where you need to go. They are very happy to connect you, but I suggest getting the phone number before this is done in case you are cut off. When ordering a record it is very important to emphasize that what is needed is a physical copy of the original and not a newly typed version of the old record. And if you are asking for copies of a file, stress that you want all the pages. It does help to ask for a page count before the file is printed as some can be hundreds of pages long and the cost per page will vary by locality.

Our local courthouse is really an intriguing place to visit. It was built in 1937 and has weathered many a storm. The parking can be a challenge, but the downtown area of Oregon City is very inviting. Doing Jury Duty is probably the main reason many of us ever visit. Having armed guards at the doors and the security checks are safety features that ensure a secure visit. Unless traveling for a vacation most other courthouses are contacted by phone and email. Having cell phones and the Internet surely limit the costs of contact from previous times when we paid long distance phone charges and postage for letters that we prayed would be answered.

So, for this Happy Halloween plan for some haunts in the future at some courthouses or other govenment record repositories. There are gold mines buried within those records. Just treat the staff nice and they will most likely be glad to assist you in your search. Trick or Treat, which are you after?

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