The courthouse is a wealth of information for family research. Just like newspapers, court records tell us how our ancestors lived.
The courthouse is not just for criminal cases but can give us clue as to marriages, wills and minutes of the inferior court for ordinary purposes.
•Marriage Licenses: Marriage recording started in 1822 in Newton County.
The court records reflect both white and black marriage licenses. You are able to take a copy of the license or use a portable scanner.
•Wills and Estates: When a person dies he/she may or may not leave a will dividing their estate among family and friends.
Wills have to be probated in the courts along with appointing administrators and guardians of minor child(ren). Wills can also tell us whether the family owned slaves during the period before 1865 and the disposition of same.
The will can also prove parentage as the estate is usually divided between the children. It can also tell you whether the family was wealthy or poor.
•Minutes of the Inferior Court for ordinary purposes: In Newton County, the court consisted of five elected justices. Inferior court was abolished in Georgia in 1868 and the Ordinary Court took over till the mid-1970s.
Today, the Probate Court handles wills, marriage licenses, guardianships, etc. Some terminologies you may find in papers handled by the Probate Court are:
•Administrator/Administrix: person appointed to handle the estate of a person who died without a will
•Intestate: to die without having written a will distributing your estate
•Testate: to die with a written will
•Codicil: making an addition to your written will
•Devise: a person receiving real property through a will
•Dower: right of wife to her deceased husband's estate for and during her life
•Heir: a person receiving an inheritance
•Letters of Testamentary: a document where court appoints the administrator to handle an estate
These court records have indexes so you are able to search for your ancestor's name.
You will also find books in the Heritage Room at the Newton County Library transcribing some of the minutes plus a marriage index.
If you visit the Newton County Clerk's office, you can find property deeds.
With property deeds, you can follow your ancestors as they own property and move around the county.
These deeds also can give you clues. You may wonder what clues could deeds possibly tell me about my ancestors.
•Grantee: the buyer of real property.
•Grantor: the seller of real property.
However, keep in mind that in order to be a grantor one must have at one time been the grantee (buyer).
Therefore, if I am looking for my relatives in deeds, I look for them first during their lifetime span (ex: 1880-1960) in the Grantee index to see if he ever bought property.
Land Deeds are a very important part of your family research.
Deeds may provide information on family members, neighbors and even friends.
Land Deeds can also pinpoint an ancestor in an area at a particular time.
Also, they can distinguish between two men with the same name. Deeds that transfer property by will or estate can name all the children and their spouses.
If you are hitting a brick wall or just can't find any information about your ancestor, try the courthouse.
Remember to always check first with the court for times they are open and exactly where the probate office and the property and deeds office is.
Expect to spend several hours there and remember, the old books are heavy.
Ellen Blakeslee is a professional genealogist living in Covington. Ellen welcomes any questions or concerns. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.