Relativelty Speaking: Victoria Courthouse records date back to 1830s

Since 1998, documents at the Victoria County Courthouse have been scanned and placed on computers, but it is still much more fun to check the Probate Index for a name and number, then go to the small pull-out bins, shown above, that contain documents.

By Martha JonesBY MARTHA JONES

As part of the Genealogy 102 Class, students met at the Victoria County Courthouse for an introduction to Victoria County Records by Deputy County Clerk Betty Tovar, who welcomed students and invited them to come and research the public records. Following her guided tour, everyone began looking at probate cases, wills, deeds, land plats and mortgages. For many, it was their first experience inside a county courthouse records repository. As one student said, "Courthouses just always seemed intimidating. Now, I feel much more comfortable coming in here and researching my family history."

Victoria is very fortunate that its records date back to 1838 and the courthouse has never had a fire, flood, or other disaster. Many of the early probate packets, now brown with age, contain papers tucked inside with edges that have become brittle through the years. Since 1998, documents have been scanned and placed on computers, but it is still much more fun to check the Probate Index for a name and number, then go to the small pull-out bins containing documents from a will probate or the settlement of an intestate (no will) case, or even the settlement of a contested estate. Often in these cases, pages can number into 30 or more if the case is drawn out through the years.

Courthouse records are of utmost importance in our ancestors' history. In some cases, researchers may find mention of their forebearer's name only in a court document, especially those related to deed records. Since 90 percent of our ancestors owned land, you can readily see how useful these records can be in family history research. Wills can be some of the most rewarding collection of documents for genealogists. By digging deeply into them, many of our unsolved problems can be unraveled. While researching court records, it is important not to be satisfied with one record of an event. The additional records that were generated could have the answer needed to break through a brick wall. An example is a will book pointing to an apprenticeship of the son of a widow. But the court minute book was more specific as it stated he was the baseborn (illegitimate) son of the widow. What isn't specified in one record may be revealed in another.

While in the Courthouse, we went to the District Clerk's office on the third floor to see where divorce, adoption and felony crime records are kept. While not being allowed to browse the records, Ira Elizando told us how to access them with proper credentials or court orders.

Last, we toured the refurbished and restored old courthouse and even momentarily witnessed a trial in session in the beautiful old courtroom that reminded us of a scene from "To Kill A Mockingbird."

Courthouses and court records rank at the top of my favorites. I encourage you to visit your local county courthouse and see for yourself the years of history recorded in the old documents just waiting for you to discover.

Send e-mail queries to mjones@vicad.com. Researchers in the Victoria County Genealogical Society will do simple genealogy look-ups.