United States research is interesting. It can be some of the most challenging research that can be undertaken. Even up to the present the United States does not have a federal registry for births and marriages. The social security death index is probably the closest thing we have to a national death index.
The core records for U.S. research have been, and continue to be the United States Census. They are regular (every ten years), they are fully indexed and searchable, they show family relationships, and they have a wealth of genealogical information. They are also one of the few Federal record sets where a researcher can search across the whole of the United States to find an ancestor.
Once research in the censuses has been exhausted research turns to other records. The county courthouse is like the treasure chest of genealogical records buried in your backyard. Many of us do not think much about the county in which we live as a source of records, but nearly from the beginning of the country the county has become the record repository for many records of genealogical significance.
The first set of records maintained by the county are the birth, marriage, and death records. The county clerk has charge of ensuring that these events are recorded and can help you to use them. Many states, like Utah, have gathered up the birth or death certificates and have published them digitally, but the county clerks office remains the repository of these records.
The second set of records are probate records. Not all probate records will be at the county, it depends on what court adjudicated the estate, but the county courts are often where the process begins. Wills can frequently be found and are often overlooked records that have a wealth of genealogical data.
The third area is tax records. The county is one of the primary bodies involved in gathering taxes. They gather taxes on property (both real estate and personal property) as well as fees for things like business licenses and drivers permits. The tax records contained at the county can often help provide clues to ancestral relationships.
The fourth area is land records. I have written about this previously, but one of the most rich set of records (and one of the least used) in U.S. research are land records. They can pin point the location of your ancestors, can provide clues to family relationships, and can help you to establish other events, like marriage and death.
Other records are also contained at the county. If you have never used county records before it would be worth watching the County Courthouse training course on FamilySearch.org. Christine Rose, one of the foremost courthouse research experts, provides a detailed explanation of courthouse research and how to effectively use your time when you visit. If you haven’t visited and learned about using these records you are leaving the gold in your back year buried instead of putting it to use. Enjoy your trip to the county building.