Written by Flora L. VerStraten

One of the most satisfying aspects of the pursuit of genealogy can be taking a trip to our ancestor’s home county to do original research in the courthouse, library, churches and cemeteries.  The importance of planning for such a trip can’t be underestimated.  In many cases, the planning and “homework” done in advance can be a major determining factor in the success of the trip.

Prepare Before Hand: Be sure you have recorded all of the information you have found to date on a family group chart or in your genealogy computer program.  This may save you time in repeating information that you already have and just didn’t have time to process or record it yet.  Make photocopies of vital records, letters, military pension files, deeds etc.  Pack copies not originals!  Make a research plan by listing questions and information you wish to find.  With your research materials, pack the telephone numbers of family members you may wish to call to verify or discuss information you find while on your trip. 

Plan Your Date: Your own schedule will be the overriding factor to planning your trip, but you might wish to keep some other factors in mind.  If driving, consider the weather.  Spring and fall probably are most ideal for travelling by car. Avoid holidays because most or all courthouses and other government buildings are closed on these days.  The days before or after an election should be avoided as well.  If you wish to search property or tax records, steer clear of property tax season.  If you know of local celebrations you may want to attend and research during those times of interest.

Plan Your Schedule: Decide ahead of time which facilities and sites you would like to visit while you are in your ancestor’s home county, such as; libraries, courthouses, historical and genealogical societies, other government offices and records facilities, cemeteries, former residences, churches, and the homes of relatives living in the area.  With the exception of public cemeteries, it is advisable to make telephone contact with all listed from above before leaving home. 

Courthouses:  Call to determine what records are available for what time periods, and in which offices they are housed.  (Refer to our homepage for contact information, office hours, costs, sources, etc. available at the Jefferson County Courthouse.) The telephone numbers and addresses of courthouses are available in the Handy Book for Genealogists.

Libraries and Museums: Telephone the public university, genealogical society and historical society libraries as well as the historical museums to determine their location, hours, and an overview of their collections.  You may want to ask about rules, parking, photocopying, and whether the packet of information can be sent to you in advance.  You may find many numbers of public and private libraries in the American Library Directory, available at many library reference desks. Keep in mind that rare and valuable books often are housed in the local history collection.  Volunteers from a local genealogical society may staff the library history rooms.  In some places the rooms are kept locked when no volunteers are available and could cost you valuable research time.  Always ask about policies and rules.  If you are on a budget or have limited time, you may decide to pack a lunch and snacks, which can save you valuable time. Find out if libraries and societies have a website and be sure to get their addresses.  Many libraries have literature or pamphlets they can send you in advance of your trip. 

Cemeteries:   Know who the experts are before you make the trip. Check with the local genealogy chapter, libraries, and museums first. If an office or church exists at the cemetery, call to inquire about hours that the cemetery is open, the availability of records, staffs assistance in locating graves and flower and decoration policies.  Cemeteries of the U.S. may include addresses and telephone numbers for some of the cemeteries you plan to visit.  If no cemetery office exists, ask for information about the cemetery in which you are interested when you call the local library, museum, and historical society or contact a local genealogical society.  If you find a cemetery is privately owned, contact current owners and get the driving directions, the condition of the cemetery if known, and more importantly, whether records or a transcription for them may exist.  Many Jefferson County cemeteries are located in very rural areas and have no access roads.  Many may not be safe, as they may have been in years gone by when an ancestor lived nearby.  It is always wise to take someone with you when you do your cemetery research.  Many rural cemeteries are under the care of the township trustees.  The official who has the responsibility over the small, rural cemeteries may have records that are not available at the local libraries.  Call in advance of your trip so that you can be sure of arranging an appointment during the official’s office hours. 

Former Residences: It can be exciting to drive by a home that your ancestor inhabited or had built decades ago, but you may have to plan ahead.  Try to determine the current owner by using city or county directories or a PhoneDisk Search. You may even be able to find a current owner of a home, farm, or business by doing a deed search. Deed searches can be done at the Jefferson County Courthouse, recorder’s office.  Deeds can be searched from current owners backward to original property owners or forward to current property owners.

(Flora shares a real story!) I actually had this happen when I lived in a one hundred-year-old house.  A woman from the family that lived in our house forty years earlier contacted me because her brother was dying. The siblings arrived several days later and I had them come in and allowed them to take photos of the inside and outside of the house. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We had just finished “restoring the house” and had made some major repairs. I can’t tell you how “elated” this family was when they entered the beautiful mahogany foyer that we had just recently restored. I heard them relate stories of the house and how all eight children grew up there.  They shared stories with me about what the house looked like when they lived there.  The family gave me information about the original homeowner, Doctor Weaver, (which had the home built for his family). I took them to the basement entryway where I found the date inscribed “1902- built.”  I am so glad that I had that opportunity to share those loving memories with a previous homeowner!

Plan Ahead  to Visit Relatives: If you plan to visit relatives who still live in your ancestor’s home county, it is wise to plan ahead rather than drop in unannounced.  Offer to buy them dinner at a local restaurant.  Ask about family photographs and memorabilia.  Do they know some of the old family sites, such as homes, workplaces, rural schools and similar locations that they could show you?

Planning Visits to Other Sites: You may want to visit funeral homes, newspaper offices, businesses, hospitals and orphanages.

Contact the Local Visitors Bureau or Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Bureau in the county seat of your ancestor’s home county can be a great source of information for you when you are planning a trip to the area.  Call and ask about motels, restaurants, maps and brochures for local attractions.  These agencies will send you a packet that will help you plan your stay IN ADVANCE! 

Pack  Wisely:  Prime importance is packing your genealogical papers and computer disks, but  they are only a part of the items you need to take to ensure an efficient and comfortable genealogical research trip.  Here is a small checklist of items:

Office Supplies- Don’t waste time looking for office supply stores and don’t borrow from the librarian or courthouse.  Bring pens, pencils, highlighter, index cards, notepaper, paper clips, sticky notes etc.

Over-the-counter medications- Bring medicines you regularly use, such as pain reliever etc.

Clothing for the job- The library and courthouse use work, this means clothing than can be layered.  Bring old clothes and boots for cemetery visits.  Pack nicer clothes for visits to library and relatives.

Money- Bring plenty of change for photocopiers and parking meters.  Bring extra money for unanticipated expenses, such as higher than expected document fees, donations, extra snacks and highway tolls.

Cameras, video camera, tape recorder, extra film, extra batteries (and/or battery charger) and tapes- These items are for photographing ancestral homes, churches and tombstones.  You may want to record interviews or make oral notes. Include; maps, emergency kit, bottled drinking water and tombstone reading kit.

A Research Trip to Jefferson County

Jefferson County Courthouse Records

 Probate Records Office 
Probate Judge/Samuel W. Kerr
Deputy Clerk/Mary Nash
(As January 2008)

Second Floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse
Steubenville, Ohio 43952         Ph: 740-283-8555
This is a list of what you can expect to find:

  1. Probate Court Estates & Guardianship records start 1838 to present.
  2. Wills start 1798 to present
  3. Trust Records start 1859 to present
  4. Birth & Death records from 1867-1908
  5. Marriage records start 1803 to present
  6. Naturalization Index A-Z 1860-1900’s
  7. Ministers Ledger Book
  8. Probate Packets

Many of the records listed above are available on film from the LDS website. Search under location, then type in Jefferson County, Ohio at www.familysearch.org and the Schiappa Library, 4141 Mall Dr., Steubenville has many of these records in microfilm form as well as some in book form.

NOTE - Copy costs have changed so often that we don't want to list them here in this format. It's better to call and check ahead. 

If the party was born or died in the city of Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio after 1908 record can be obtained at City of Steubenville, Health Dept. (directly across from courthouse.) 

City of Steubenville Health Department
312 Market St., Steubenville, OH 43952 
Phone: 740-283-6050
{Contact health dept for updated costs for copies}

If party was born or died in the county after 1908
Record can be obtained at the:
Jefferson County Health Department
Ohio Valley Towers, 5th & Market St. (4th Floor)
Steubenville, OH  43952  740-283-8530

Certified copies of the births & deaths are available. Again, we do not want to list price for copies. Please call in advance. They also offer non certified copies (as of Feb. 2008). Please remit cost of copies in cash or money order.

Check the City of Toronto Health Dept for records! Telephone: 740-537-2750 - They have their own health dept. Check to see if they still have the records of have shipped them off to Jefferson County repository. Currently we've been informed this may have happened or will happen in the near future, so always call in advance.

Clerk of Courts
Jefferson County Courthouse, 2nd Floor
Steubenville, OH 43952  Ph: 740-283-8583

  1. Naturalization Index Card files (various dates)
  2. Petitions and Records 1909-1940’s
  3. Declaration of Intentions 1903-1946
  4. Divorces
    {Contact Clerk’s office for updated costs for copies}

Recorder’s Office
Jefferson County Courthouse, 1st Floor
Steubenville, OH  43952   Ph: 740-283-8566
{Copies per page are $1.00}

  1. Jefferson Co Deed Books (1797 to present)
  2. Abstract Index (incl. Twp. & Ranges)
  3. Mortgage Transfers, Corporation Ledgers
  4. Soldiers Discharge Records 1864-1946
  5. Veterans Grave Registration Card Files, Maps

This information is to be used as a guide. Records may be shifted or removed at any given time to a storage unit or locked in the basement. Some may not even be accessible for public viewing. Contact the office in advance to see what records they have available.