I am lucky enough to live within an hour's drive of a Texas county that is significant to my family history.

I hear many people talk about going to the courthouse for research, but I still find it intimidating. Particularly, there are a lot of offices in a courthouse and I wouldn't want to bother the wrong employees.

I'd like guidance on making that first trip to do family history research at a courthouse.

  • What types of records are you looking for?
    – Luke_0
    Dec 17, 2012 at 15:49
  • 1
    Luke, I expect that eventually I will look for various types of records, but I want to start with land records. Dec 18, 2012 at 13:24

4 Answers 4


As with visiting any repository (courthouse, archives etc.) making contact in advance is essential.

Familiarise yourself with their website (if any).

Then make contact by phone and ask about: hours of opening, what ID you need (if any), where you should go initially, what records are available, how to order/access records you wish to see, policies about photographing and photocopying, what assistance is (and isn't) available on site.

The most important question you can ask is: how can I make the most of my visit while making the lives of the folk who work there as easy as possible

Thank the person you speak to on the phone for their help, and thank everybody you interact with in person as well.


Contacting the courthouse ahead of time with specific questions, either by phone, e-mail, or letter, is beneficial for all concerned. This way you should know the hours, photocopy/photo policies, office to visit for specific records, etc. This holds true for any research facility you might visit.

  • Welcome to Genealogy and Family History SE! This is a great answer. I'm glad to have you here at GFH.SE!
    – Luke_0
    Dec 18, 2012 at 23:15

Most places of research have the information online about hours of operation and rules pertaining to digital media devices. I suggest you do your homework about what sort of records are available. If you can't find the information online then I suggest calling.

Some places you go, the staff will be happy to help, some places on the other hand may not be. Bring plenty of snacks and drinks if permitted, as well as a digital camera or a hand scanner, again if permitted. Bring pencils and paper to write down information as needed and don't forget to check those indexes first. I would bring some thank you cards for the staff that help you along. They will be happy to see you come back if all goes well.


Judy G. Russell, who writes the blog "The Legal Genealogist", has given a webinar That First Trip to the Courthouse which is an hour-long presentation on how to prepare for a courthouse trip, and what kinds of records that you might find there. Her webinar is available to members of the Florida State Genealogical Society, where she presented it last fall, and as part of the library of webinars available to Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscribers, where it is also available for purchase.

During the webinar, she recommended two books by author Christine Rose, Courthouse Indexes Illustrated, and Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures.

To her excellent recommendations, and those of the other community members here, I would add: prepare yourself for your trip by examining the type of courthouse records you want to look at by going to FamilySearch and other sites and previewing the materials beforehand. Perhaps they don't have the land records you want to look at online for your county (which is the whole reason you want to go to the courthouse in the first place) but if you can look at land records from a nearby county from the same time period, you can familiarize yourself with the way the volumes are laid out, how the indexes work, etc.

For Texas Land records, for instance, consult:

You don't want to be figuring out how to use a Grantor/Grantee deed index for the first time when you are actually at the courthouse. Practice on online records at home, so you'll already be familiar with how the records are arranged once you get there.

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