Monday, April 30, 2018

Courthouse Research

I live in Southern California far from where my ancestors lived. From around the early 1800's most of my American ancestors lived in the Midwest and Kentucky. My families didn't settle in California until the 1920's and 1940's. Their 20th Century departure from the Midwest mean all of the records I need in order to extend my family tree are far from where I live. Many are now online through FamilySearch, but many still haven't been scanned.

My first trip to the Midwest was only last year with my visit to Chicago. My second visit to the Midwest was last week, which was a visit to my grandfather Charles Lynn Forgey's birthplace in Jackson County, Indiana. His ancestors first settled in Indiana around 1814 to about 1830.

I have quite a bit of information on the Forgey family and collateral lines because many of his relatives lived in the area until recently, and we still have relatives in Indiana. I had wanted to see the area and visit family grave sites for years. I also have a very stubborn brickwall on my ancestor Sarah Campbell's, line she was born around 1812. I have not been able to link her to any family. I decided to go through court records to see if I could find any, heretofore, unidentified Campbells living in Jackson County. Last year I had found one Campbell, named James T., who could be a relative of hers, but haven't been able to prove a relationship.

Sarah's husband Anderson Wray had been in court over a case of trespass and battery in the 1830's. I thought if I could find the full case, instead of just the court order book reference, I might find a Campbell witness? Also I was interested in adding anything new about any of my families in Jackson County.

When I got to the courthouse I noticed a new judicial center being built behind the 19th Century courthouse. I walked passed it on my way inside where I made a beeline to the County Clerk's office to ask if there were any old court records from the 1830's onward. The Clerk said yes they did have records from that time period. We went down into the basement where boxes were stacked everywhere. We had to wind our way around them. The clerk told me these were boxes of files being sent for scanning after which the documents inside would be shredded. I asked if the scanned documents would be online for the public to use? She said probably not. I asked if the old documents would be scanned, she said it would cost too much to scan those, and the old documents would probably be disposed of at some point because the cost of storing them would be too expensive. That scared me and made my job of combing through the old records seem critical to accomplish asap.

The scanning project is an outgrowth of the building project I passed. The county clerk's office is moving over there when the building is completed sometime later this year, and there isn't room for all of these documents.

After walking through the box maze we found ourselves in front of these file drawers. At this point the clerk explains finding anything in the early court records is like finding a needle in a haystack, because the 30 or so metal file drawers, with the court records ranging from 1815 to about 1875, aren't in any order whatsoever. Most drawers are only labeled old circuit court records or old criminal court records. Some have date ranges. All of this is deceiving because even those labeled boxes contain mixed civil and criminal cases, and mixed years.

At this point the clerk said she would leave me to it. I then knew I would have to do my best to sort through around 30 drawers, document by document, to find anything. These old drawers were scattered among the numbered drawers, which were created after they adopted the system of numbering cases sometime in the 1870's. If the drawers were all in the same area the task would have been a little easier.

After starting I realized I needed to keep track of the boxes I already searched. Seeing the chalk on the boxes I thought that was a great idea, and was sorry I didn't bring  chalk. I didn't want to write with permanent ink on the labels, although it wouldn't have harmed anything. I decided to just use a torn piece of paper placed in the label frame.

 I was at first hesitant to remove the documents from the drawers while searching. I would just lift up a handful and go through them one by one. I then thought since they aren't in order I could just pull enough out to create space to flip through these tightly packed drawers more quickly.

Below you can see how tightly packed the drawers are. You can also see my snack bag which is another necessity when it comes to long hours at the courthouse. Lucky there is a restroom in the basement so I didn't have to waste much time for bathroom breaks. Lucky the restroom was close to wash my hands. I had been looking through documents for hours before I noticed my hands were black. I guess they turned black from the old ink?

I kept the trash can by the table to swish the broken off pieces of old brittle paper into, as you can see above.

Looking through the records I found some dating back to before Indiana was a state and marked Territory North of the Ohio River. I found a marriage bond from the 1820's, and cut out newspaper articles were attached to some documents like the one below. You will also notice the scratch on the table created by the sharp edge of the a metal drawer. The table was all scratched up.

I found a number of documents bound together with either string or ribbon. Bundles of documents with ribbon generally dated back to the 1850's and 1860's. Not sure if they were red and faded to pink? Took me a minute to figure out how to unwrap these document.

The ribbon became a way for me to quickly date the enclosed documents if a date wasn't visible. Another way to identify documents quickly was the color of the paper. Blue paper was used in the 1850's and 1860's.

Sadly I didn't find the rest of the Anderson Wray court case. Comparing the court order books cases from the 1830's to those in the file drawers many would seem to be missing. Either they were disposed of years ago or it's possible people walked off with some of them. With no one supervising the researchers so it would be easy to just walk out with them.

I did find ancestors in the records which was rewarding for me. I had known about a court case involving the probable brother of my ancestor Andrew Forgey. I have not been able to prove this man James A. Forgey is his brother, but I think the fact they migrated to the same place from the same place, and their close ages would suggest that. I found several court records for James A. Forgey. These records confirm he did indeed live in the same township, Carr, as his likely brother Andrew Forgey. He would later migrate to a different county. According to one record I found he was a constable for Carr township. He was sued by Jesse Hubbard for slander in the 1830's. His witness list doesn't included Andrew Forgey ? The list does include another ancestor of mine Anderson Wray and his uncle William Harrison. These men were neighbors of Andrew Forgey putting them all in the same area and strengthening the case that these two Forgeys were brothers. 

I guess I was meant to find that case because when I opened the first drawer James A. Forgey's  case file was sticking up. The case file didn't contain any additional information about the slander. It did contain the names of witnesses and receipts for payment of the witnesses.

Day 2 I arrived to find most of the maze of boxes gone. I also found a policeman in the basement, gun holster and all moving the remaining boxes. He was telling the clerk all this paper would make a great bonfire. No she said it had to be shredded. I was like holy mother of god I hope they don't move the old files for at least 3 more days. I then thought they are just taking these boxes to be scanned and I'm safe.

On that day I found a case I didn't know about for my ancestor Richard Browning. I knew this was the correct Richard Browning when I saw the list of witnesses. As you see below the documents were folded and the case information written on the back of the outer document. The early case descriptions often just contained the names of the plaintiff and defendant. Criminal cases were recorded as the State of Indiana vs defendant. By about 1850 much more information appeared on this cover document. The cover by then was a printed standardized document. It often contained the names of witnesses as in the Richard Browning case below.

The witnesses on the subpoena below are Richard's in-laws and neighbors in the tiny community of Salt Creek. Ira Cornett appear on the summons. Richard Browning was buried in Cornett Grove Cemetery. Witnesses names can be helpful when it come to identifying a persons friends and relations for further research.

Apparently Richard didn't pay young Mr. Thomas Hill, son and apprentice to his father William, for crafting clothing, such as pantaloons, vests, and shoes etc. in the years 1844 to 1846. He waited until 1850 to sue for some reason? He was asking for the astronomical sum of $90, which might be the equivalent of $2,000 today. Clothing must of have extremely expensive in the 1840's?

Some witness testimony is included for this case. John Brewer stated under oath that the boy's work was worth $3.00 a month. Thomas Shelton's testimony stated that "the boy's work was worth $5 a month." Alfred Brewer stated he "awferred the Boy fore dollar a month to work for him."  Richard's in-law William Winkler "swore that Browning wanted a receipt from Wm. Hill and Hill objected to it." Misses Winkler swore that "Wm Hill said that Thomas mite doe as he pleases with a suit that was pending before Squire Gobles for the same work."

List of clothing Thomas Hill made for Richard Browning

It appears Thomas Hill worked for Richard from the age 14 to the age 16 according to the 1850 Census.

When I visited the Cornett Grove Cemetery with my distant Forgey cousin, Nan, we noticed a tombstone with the name Hill on it. The beautiful design with the opening pearly gates caught our eye. I had forgotten already that Richard was sued by a Hill. The Hill monument near Richard's grave is likely for a members of the Thomas Hill family.

I found a few other cases for my families which I still need to go through. Apparently Richard Browning was sued again years later over the slaughter of a pig. I found several divorce cases, but none for my own family. There were a few murder cases. The notorious Reno family, this family gang was the first in history to rob a train, was well represented in the surviving court records. They were involved in robbery and gaming cases.

I researched in the Courthouse for a few hours everyday for 4 days. I didn't get a chance to look through some of the other books and files in the basement. The estray books could contain some helpful information. The probate files may also have information not scanned by FamilySearch?  There were notary books also, but I believe they are more recent? Sadly there is no inventory of all the old records in the basement.

I'm hoping moving all of those old records will be too much trouble? If they have to dispose of  them I hope they can first be scanned by maybe FamilySearch? And or go to the State Archives? The local genealogy and historical society doesn't have space for all of those records. I'm hoping they don't move these records this year, anyway, so I have another crack at them in the fall?


nmclain said...

Dear Annette,
Even though I do not live in Indiana, I'm always concerned when County officials talk about destroying their records. They are destroying their own history. Have you informed the Indiana State Archives, the Indiana State Library or the website Reclaim the Records to tell them what is going on? I would also inform Curt Witcher of the Allen County Public Libary in Fort Wayne, since it is one of the largest genealogical libraries in the country. Maybe they could put a stop to this.

Laura Adams said...


I enjoyed your post very much!! I wish I was able to do some work like that but I find plenty to do online so will just keep plugging!!

Good luck on finding more in the Fall

Laura Adams

Annette said...

Thank you for the advice nmclain! I will contact the Allen County Library. Someone told me they would contact the state archives.

Annette said...

Thank you for the nice comment Laura!

nmclain said...

One more thing, I had just listened to an episode of the Extreme Genes podcast and there was a representative from Family Search on named Steve Waters looking for archives of records to digitize. The episode was from last yeaar. I did find a summary of the show online.
Here's the link:

Episode 185 – FamilySearch Ready To Digitize Your Local Records / Utah Man Finds Family History Gold In New Zealand Book Case
...Next (starts at 10:39), Fisher talks with Steve Waters from Steve is giving you the opportunity to point FamilySearch in the right direction in finding important genealogical records that have not yet been digitized. Listen to the interview, then call them with what you know at 844-326-4478, or email them at