Thursday, August 24, 2017

It Never Hurts To Go Looking: Courthouse Treasures

Courthouse, Cobb County, Georgia;
By HowardSF at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Smartphones. Tablets. Internet. Scanners. There is so much technology that enhances our ability to research and learn more about our ancestors. It took a recent trip to a county courthouse to remind me that old courthouse records can be just as important and meaningful to our research.

During a recent stay in Georgia, I took part of day to visit the Cobb County courthouse in Marietta, Georgia. It seemed the logical place to go since, for some reason, few Cobb County marriage or probate records had been digitized and made available for online research.

Getting Ready - The day before my visit, I did several things that really helped my efforts. First I called the Switzer Library in Marietta, Georgia, and spoke with a helpful person in their Georgia (Genealogy) Room. After I explained the type of information I was seeking, she reminded me, with a friendly voice, that the old records up to 1864 "were burned, you know, during the war" but that later records were all housed in the county courthouse. She also explained that extensive indices for these records were not available at the Library. This call helped me know that the courthouse was exactly where I needed to go for my research.

The second thing I did prior to my visit was to look through my genealogy software, Family Tree Maker, and make a list of those ancestors and some of the relatives from Cobb County for whom I wanted to locate a marriage record, a will, or a probate packet. My handwritten list included:

  • type of record needed
  • name/names of person/s involved
  • probable date of the record

Getting Set - I'm glad to took time to visit the Cobb County, Georgia government's web site, because the county has several different court areas including juvenile, criminal, and probate. I set my GPS for the probate court address, marked the parking garage on Google Maps, and took a picture of my parking spot number with my phone. (I wasn't about to not use my available technology.)

Go - My first top was the Cobb County Probate Office. While there were no public indices to the old probate records, a very helpful clerk in the office offered to look up those people on my list to see if probate records for any of them were housed in that office. From my list of six, only one had any probate records, my second great grandfather, Thomas D. Perkinson. Interestingly, none of the records were indexed under his name. Thomas had died intestate, so all of the records were indexed with the name of his wife Mary and a son William Perkinson, and the records dealt with their efforts to settle Thomas' estate.

As for the other five will or probate records I was seeking, the Probate Office clerk suggested that I might check surrounding counties for records. If my ancestor had owned property in another county, the will might have been probated there instead of in Cobb, their county of residence. Otherwise, the absence of any probate records generally suggests that my other ancestors did not actually own any property or items of value. The suggestion to look in other counties was an idea I need to persue in the future.


After a few minutes, the Court Minutes book was brought out for my use. The probate court did not require the use of white gloves on those old pages; I was simply asked to turn the pages carefully. The book containing the records I needed was huge, about 24 in x 15 in x 3 in. It just barely fit on the desk available for public use. Turning its pages was like going back through time. All entries were hand written. You could see when a new ordinary clerk took over through the change of handwriting. And the handwriting, so beautiful, very ornate on some of the pages, page after page filled with that now rarely seen Spencerian Script.

The index listed four pages of records for this estate: Temporary Letters of Administration, two papers for Permanent Letters of Administration, and records for the Leave to Sell Thomas' property. All four records were indexed under the name of "Perkerson", but the records themselves included both the name "Perkerson" and the correct name "Perkinson".

I was able to take pictures of all of the records with my smart phone then later transcribe them using Transcript, a wonderful freeware program by Jacob Boerema. By reading the transcriptions, I was able to construct a timeline and follow the probate process for the estate of Thomas D Perkinson.

Thomas D Perkinson died on 30 Sep 1875. In the opening of the October term of court, 7 Oct 1875, his widow Mary Putnam Perkinson and his oldest son, William Howard Perkinson, applied to the court to receive Permanent Letters of Administration in order to settle Thomas' estate. The record included that statement that Thomas had "left considerable estate" which needed to be handled. A further statement estimated the value of the estate to be $15,000. The Ordinary was on vacation, so the court gave only Temporary Letters of Administration. In addition, five men were named as appraisers of the estate, among whom were an H Putnam (who might have been Mary Putnam Perkinson's brother Henry) and an L Litchfield (who might have been the Lemuel Litchfield who was married to Thomas and Mary's daughter Nancey Ann Perkinson).

In the November 1875 term of court, Mary and William Howard appeared in court and swore that "to the best of their knowledge" Thomas had died without a will. The actual Permanent Letters of Administration were granted to Mary and son William Howard on 6 Dec 1875 during December court.

By February of 1876, the appraisers had apparently studied the land Thomas owned and had reported to the court; the document to this effect was not recorded in the minutes book. What was recorded was this description of the real estate owned by Thomas. It consisted of
"numerous lots of wild or unimproved land, scattered, in different counties through the state, a great many of said lands being of very little value, and will not pay for the expense of advertising and selling in the usual way [so] the Court being notified that it will be of interest of said estate, to sell these lands at private sale, it is therefore ordered, that [the administrators be] authorized to sell and convey the wild or unimproved lands at private or public sale as their judgment may dictate and to the best interest of said estate."
Basically, Mary and William were given permission to sell the lands any way and for any amount they could get in order that Thomas' estate be settled. How I wish the final return for Thomas' estate had been recorded in these records. It would have been interesting to learn exactly where the properties had been located and who purchased them. Regardless of the final outcome for the probate process, these Court Minutes records were a real treasure to find and read.

My next courthouse stop was at the county's License Office. Today this is where people apply for a marriage license, a weapon carry permit, or papers regarding residence status. It was an interesting and busy office. Fortunately for me, the License Office had a bound index to the marriage records stored there. According to the index, the only existing marriage record I was seeking was that of my Great Grandparents Albert Bell Vaughan, Jr. and Georgia Camp.

Again, I was presented with a large volume of records and was allowed to photograph the desired record. I even smiled when I saw, once again, the signature of H. M. Hammett, the Ordinary of Cobb County, the gentleman who had signed papers relating to settling the estate of Thomas D Perkinson six years prior to this marriage. I had known of their marriage date for a number of years, but there was something very special about actually holding that record book and seeing the official record for the beginning of their married life. It was another courthouse treasure to add to my files.

Marriage Record for Albert Bell Vaughan, Jr, and Georgia Camp

Lessons Learned:

  • When looking through old, handwritten documents such as these, it is not that unusual to find various spellings of an ancestor's name. These documents were generally written by others based on oral information given to them.
  • The contact I made with the city library and my use of the county government's web site helped my visit to go very smoothly. As the saying goes, prior preparation prevents poor performance.
  • I was surprised at the emotional impact of seeing these records. It is one thing to read information digitized online or recorded in a database; it can be something a little different to actually hold an original record written at a specific point in your ancestor's life.
  • I am now starting some lists in my Genealogy Bullet Journal of other Courthouse Treasures I want to search for in the future. I need to include looking for probate records of my Cobb County ancestory in some of the neighboring Georgia counties.
#bulletjournal #genealogybulletjournal #campgenealogy #georgiagenealogy #genealogyhardwaresoftware #lessonslearned #perkinsongenealogy #researchtips #thoseplacesthursday #vaughangenealogy

Update:  You may want to look at this You Tube video from Genealogy Magazine about Courthouse Research. It provides a quick overview presented with a light touch.


  1. Mary, this was a wonderful opportunity to tag along with you on your courthouse trip. I especially appreciated the tip to prepare in advance! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. A big thank you to Randy Seaver for including this post in his Best of the Genea-Blogs listing for 20-26 August 2017.