Research at City and County offices

As you review this partial listing for Cleveland it should become apparent that finding source documents in a particular city can be tricky.  Different offices cover different date ranges and there can be overlap with some other agencies or the library offering similar documents.  As you get organized to conduct research in your own city you may want to consider the making a check  list.  Consider the following questions for each:

  • Office Name:_________________________________________________
  • Document Type:______________________________________________
  • Dates Covered:_______________________________________________
  • Media: (Microfilm, bound paper, file folders, index cards, electronic data)
  • Hours & Phone:_______________________________________________

While many libraries and city offices have this type of information available on their websites I have found it a better use of time to do a little extra personal effort up front so that I am entirely confident I am going to the right location for the date range and document type.  As an example, for some document types here in Cleveland you may need to go to one of three different locations depending on the date range.  Simply calling ahead to say I am looking for this type of document for this date range can make all the difference.

County Office – Your County Office website should have a page indicating what records are available.  The Cleveland Cuyahoga County Office webpage is a good example and has an overview of the key items which are available including the document types and the years covered.

County Archives – In Cleveland we a separate county archives.   The Cuyahoga County Archives has a wide variety of items, some which can only be found at this location and some items which are duplicates and available at other city, county and library offices. Below is a partial listing.

  • 1813 -1913 probate court estate records
  • 1849 -1908 birth records
  • 1836 – 1972 voter registrations
  • 1840 – 1908 death records

Probate Court – The starting point for marriage records in Cleveland is the Cuyahoga County Probate Court website docket search where you can get some basic facts about an historic marriage.  As a result of the search you can obtain the Volume and Page reference which is necessary for the second step which is to locate the document on either microfilm or paper depending upon the age. Volumes 1 to 200 are on microfilm at the downtown Cleveland Public Library and volumes 201 and newer are available in books at the County Court House.

It is not uncommon to have a two step process where you have to look up a reference number using one method (in this case via a website) and then a second step where you look up that actual document (in this case either on paper or microfilm depending on the year).

Other documents in Cleveland include:

  • 1855 – 1901 Naturalization records at Probate Court
  • 1818 – 1971 Naturalization records at Court of Common Pleas
  • 1876 – 1922 Divorce cases at Court of Common Pleas

Hopefully, this review for Cleveland gives you a sense of the types of documents and offices where they may be found.  Each city and county will be different, although with a bit of planning and a few phone calls should be able to get to the right spot the first time.  Also don’t forget to ask them if they know of any low cost parking near their locations.  In some cities the parking rate directly near the city ceter can be expensive, ask for their advice on low cost alternatives.

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