County Records

Prior to admission to the Union in 1803, territorial laws, especially the Ordinance of 1787, provided for the first forms of local government in Ohio. The lands of the Northwest Territory (Ohio included) previously were surveyed under the Ordinance of 1785 into township sections. When the territory's first governor took office in 1788, however, he instituted the authority to create counties and townships under the new territorial government. The laws established under the Ordinance and the new government gave the early counties the authority to raise money by taxes and levies, to establish a courthouse, a criminal/debtor jail, and also to construct a pillory, whipping post, and stocks. These early laws also provided for the establishment of a roadway system for the counties.

The first of Ohio's counties to be platted was Washington County in 1788. As its boundaries were drawn first, Washington County comprised more than a third of the entire state. Other counties also were formed by the territorial governors' proclamations. By 1803, ten counties had been established, having little resemblance to their modern-day counterparts.

When Ohio became a state in 1803, the Ohio State Constitution assumed the responsibility of making provision for county government. Elections were held for the county commissioners, the sheriff, and the coroner. The Ohio Supreme Court also was required to meet in each county once a year until 1851 according to state law.

In the early years of county government, the primary responsibilities of the officials centered around the justice system and taxing areas. The Board of County Commissioners was responsible for implementing and administering the functional aspects of county government including the levying of taxes, building projects, public welfare and security, and similar services. Additional services included the development of roads, bridges, and ditches.

Article X, Section 1, of the 1851 Ohio State Constitution pro-vided for the legal formation and organization of county government by general law. Under general law, the county is a link, a representative of state government established to carry out state laws and policies. However, as needs and demands increase, the state can confer new powers upon counties so that they will become more effective governing structures. Article X also provided for optional forms of county government such as charter government with home rule.

The basic core of officials responsible for the daily operations of county government are the County Commissioners, Auditor, Treasurer, Prosecuting Attorney, Clerk of Courts, Engineer, Coroner, Recorder, and the Sheriff. Common Pleas and Probate Court judges also are elected officials. Their powers are derived from the Ohio General Assembly.

County government today continues to serve the community at large by providing those services necessary to insure order and due process in communities made up of rural and municipal areas.

Types of Records

  • Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages
  • Related Records: Wills, Estates, Guardianships, Coroner's Inquests, County Home, Children's Home Records
  • Other Records: Naturalizations, Land & Road Records, School Records, Tax Records, and Court of Common Pleas

Vital Records

Births and deaths were not recorded in Ohio until late in 1867. The records were held by the Probate Court until 1908. At that time, responsibility for creating these records passed to the Department of Health, where it remains today. Birth records include the name of the child (if any), the date of birth, sex, race, place of birth, father's name, mother's maiden name, and who reported the birth. Death records include the name of the deceased, the date of death, age, place of death, place of birth (if known), occupation, names of parents (for infants only until after 1908), cause of death, and who reported the death.

Marriages are found in the County Probate Court records from the time that the county was officially organized. Marriage records may include the name of the groom, the name of the bride, the date of the marriage, and the name of the person who performed the ceremony. If the bride or groom were under age, a parent's consent might be included. Later marriage records (after 1900) may include the ages of the couple and the names of their parents.

How to use them. The Center for Archival Collections holds a microfilm copy of the births, deaths, and marriages from nineteen counties in northwest Ohio from 1867-1908. Holdings for some counties may also include more recent records. 

Most volumes are indexed in the front, by the first letter of the surname. Numbers refer to the page of the given volume. Some later volumes are "self-indexing"--that is, all the "A" entries are together for a given year, sometimes grouped by the political subdivision. Some counties have compiled index volumes which list the name, date, volume and page on which a record can be found.

For births and deaths between 1908-1936, contact the Ohio History Connection, 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43211, +1-614-297-2510. OHS has developed an online Index to Deaths. For births and deaths after 1936, contact the Division of Vital Statistics, Ohio Department of Health, G-20 Ohio Department Building, 65 South Front Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215. The Division of Vital Statistics also includes records of divorces after 1948 and marriages after September 1949.

Special Tips:

  • Look through the volume to see how it is organized.
  • Be flexible about spelling
  • Be flexible about handwriting
  • Remember that the recorders sometimes made mistakes
  • Remember that the recorders were sometimes given incorrect information
  • Births and deaths occurring in the County Home may be recorded with Home records
  • Check the marriage records in both the husband's and the wife's county of residence
  • Check marriage records in nearby counties if the person lived near the border, or if the marriage is a very early one
  • Check marriage records in nearby states or communities popular with those who eloped

Related Records

Wills, estates, and guardianships deal with the family and property of the deceased. Wills are formal documents recording the how the deceased wanted his or her estate handled. The surviving spouse and all surviving children, including adults may be listed, as well as property and household goods. Estates record the court dealings for those who died without a will. Guardianships deal with the care of minor children and sometimes with surviving wives and handicapped adults. Records are located in the Probate Court of each county, though some information before 1856 may be found in the Court of Common Pleas records.

Coroner's Inquests record the circumstances and cause of death for those who died in unusual situations, by violence, or without a doctor in attendance.

County Homes were established to care for the county's orphans, elderly, disabled, and indigent. Births and deaths were recorded in the Admissions Registers.

Cemetery Records may be held at the county level (e.g., the County Recorder's office) or the township level, depending upon whose jurisdiction the particular cemetery falls under. Cemetery deeds or interment records may provide further details about the deceased and their date and cause of death or next of kin. Many county genealogical societies have created indexes to cemetery inscriptions.

How to use them. Government record volumes are generally indexed in the front. Researchers can use wills and estate records to learn dates of death, married names of daughters, residences of surviving adult children, and family economic situations. Coroner's records, county home records, and cemetery records can establish the date and cause of death of persons who may not be listed in Probate records. Cemetery inscription books can pinpoint the cemetery where an ancestor is buried and record dates of birth and death prior to the existence of Probate records. Burial locations may also suggest names of related individuals. 

Special Tips:

  • Look through the volume to see how it is organized.
  • Be flexible about spelling
  • Be flexible about handwriting
  • Remember that the recorders sometimes made mistakes
  • Remember that the recorders were sometimes given incorrect information
  • Check records in nearby counties if the person lived near the border

Other Records

Naturalization Records document the date on which an alien went through the process of becoming an American citizen. Naturalizations could take place in any court of record, although almost all naturalization records in Ohio were held at the county level. Today, federal courts have assumed much of the responsibility for naturalizations, and the researcher should consult them first for naturalizations occurring after about 1930.

More on Naturalization Records

Declaration of Intention. After an alien had resided in the United States for a minimum of three years, he could make a "Declaration of Intention" renouncing his allegiance to his native country and stating his intent to become an American citizen. Declarations of Intention are sometimes called "first papers." After two more years of residence, the alien could become a full-fledged citizen by taking an oath of citizenship in court. Thus, a minimum residence of five years was needed for a foreign-born person to become a citizen.

In Ohio, early naturalizations were handled through the Court of Common Pleas and are usually found as short entries in the Common Pleas Journals. When the Probate Court was established in the 1850s, many (but not all) counties moved naturalization proceedings to the Probate Court, where separate declaration of intention and naturalization volumes were kept. Major changes in the law covering naturalizations took effect about 1910, and the procedure was again handled in the Court of Common Pleas. Practices in other states may be different.

Because the laws regarding citizenship changed many times over the course of our nation's history, there is a tremendous variety in the amount and type of information researchers will find in naturalization records. The earliest records in the Court of Common Pleas Journals usually just list the names of the aliens taking the oath of citizenship and no other personal information (not even their country of origin is listed). Later records may mention the native country, but not the hometown or province. Still later declarations of intention may list the hometown as well as a brief physical description of the alien and the ship he sailed on. After 1906, prospective citizens were required to produce a certificate of arrival, and fill out an extended questionnaire on themselves and their families. The application for citizenship and "final papers" were on a single form which included much of this information as well as the names and birthdates (and birthplaces) of the alien's spouse and children.

How to use them:

Even with no other information than the date of naturalization, the researcher knows that at least five years must have passed since the date of immigration. Passenger lists should be consulted to determine the point of embarkation, which is often the home nation. The Federal Census from 1850 onward will list the native country, and often the part of the country or province (e.g., Bavaria or Scotland). The International Genealogical Index may provide another means to determine the hometown. Researchers whose ancestors lived in the Toledo area may also wish to check the Lucas County Board of Elections records for naturalization-related records of registered voters.

Special Tips:

  • Not everyone became a citizen.
  • Some aliens waited decades before filing papers.
  • Since the law required 5 years residence in the United States, if an alien moved during this time, his declaration may be found in a different location from his "final papers." Not everyone was required to file a declaration of intention.
  • Not all documents may have survived.
  • Women took the citizenship of their husbands and became naturalized automatically when their husbands did. Thus, there are very few naturalization papers for women until women had the right to vote (ca. 1920). Until about 1910, wives were never recorded on their husbands' naturalization papers.
  • Children under 21 took the citizenship of their fathers. Thus, when the father became naturalized, so did his minor children. The expression "father's papers" refers to this situation. Until about 1910, children were never recorded on their fathers' naturalization papers.
  • Other legislation may apply to an individual's situation. Consult American Naturalization Processes and Procedures, 1790-1985 by John J. Newman (Indiana Historical Society, 1985) CAC pOG 3445 REF for more information.
  • Name changes:
    • Some aliens chose to Americanize their names (e.g., Karl Schmidt becomes Charles Smith), or used birth names and Americanized names interchangeably throughout their lives. This was not always "forced" on them by immigration officials.
    • A few aliens chose a completely different "American" name (often a translation of their birth name) at the time of their naturalization or selected from several different names they had used in their native country. After 1906, these name changes are recorded on the naturalization document.
  • Spelling changes:
    • Some aliens chose to simplify or Americanize the spelling of their names to make them easier to pronounce by other Americans.
    • Other aliens retained the original spellings, and were willing to have the pronunciation change to fit the spelling.
    • Not all aliens were literate or literate in English. The spelling on the document may represent the clerk's "best guess" about the native spelling of the name or his attempt to interpret a signature which could be using old-style German script or a non-Roman alphabet.
    • Different nationalities or even ethnic groups may use different spelling conventions.

Land Records document the ownership of real property. These records can be found in the office of the County Recorder (e.g. Mortgage Records, Deed Records, Corporation Records, Cemetery Records) and are often organized by the parcel of land. Indexes by Grantor (seller) and Grantee (purchaser) are often available.

Road Records not only document construction planning and techniques but also tell us about those who settled and worked on the roads. Early residents of townships and counties were often obligated to donate their labor and equipment to road construction and maintenance. Thus, various road documents actually help place individuals in relation to their neighbors and early landmarks.

Road Files often contain Petitions and Orders for construction or improvements which list the names of people in a particular locality at a certain time. This type of information may help supplement census and enumeration data. In addition, the Road Files include descriptions of the proposed work, copies of bids, costs, and resolutions.

Road Plans and Plats contain profile drawings, plats, and sketches of the construction and improvement of roads. In addition to the names and boundary lines of roads, these records include the owners of property which runs on or is adjacent to each road. Road Records in the County Engineer's office often document lands to be appropriated for improvements, showing owner, acres owned, and quantity of land to be appropriated.

Road records are usually arranged chronologically by date of meeting, date road was established, or date of filing. Related records include Ditch, Survey, and Turnpike Roads. 

Military Records The County Auditor kept a variety of records regarding the military service of county residents. Civil War Bounty Records containing a list of volunteers' names filed with the auditor for payment of the county bounty. This list includes the volunteer's name, company enlisted, age, names of dependents, date of enlistment, sworn statements and an abstract of county payments. Commutation Records concern those men drafted for service in the Union Army and contain a list of conscripts, township of residence, and amount of commutation paid.

The Militia Roll is a list of males subject to the military draft and includes all male residents with their name, age, and place of residence. The Enumeration of Soldiers and Sailors is an alphabetical list by political subdivision and then by the names of the soldiers and sailors. Included in this record are the names of living veterans of the Mexican, Civil War, Spanish American and Philippine Insurrection, their branch of service, war, company regiment, battery, vessel, rank, and address.

Indigent Soldier Burial Record contains the name of the deceased, last residence, rank, date of death, burial costs, place and date of burial for the post-Civil War era. 

School Records can be found with a variety of agencies. Schools are administered at the local level, and school districts can be part of city, township, county, or other government divisions.

Board of Education Minutes contain a record of business transacted at the meetings, including salary appropriations, contracts, building construction, and any other business which might have come before the board.

Enumerations of School Age Youth (maintained by the county auditor's office) show the date, school district number, number of youth, name of youth, age, and sometimes the names of parents.

Records of Teachers Examinations (maintained by the board of education) include the name of teacher, branches of study, test scores, and date.

Teachers Term Records/School Registers/Pupil Records contain the school number, term, date, name of pupil, age, attendance record, branches of study pursued, name of teacher, and sometimes grades. Some of these records include a Visitor's Register which gives the date, name of visitor, and remarks.

Personnel and Budgetary Records include the terms and salaries of school teachers, receipts and disbursements, school tax rates, and maintenance and operation of the school buildings.

Special Tips:

  • Records may be found in a variety of government jurisdictions
  • Records may sometimes be found in private hands
  • Not all documents have survived
  • Some records are abstracts or summaries of statistics and do not include information about individual pupils or teachers

Tax Records

The County Auditor maintains duplicate Lists of Taxable Property within the county, including real estate. Arranged chronologically and by locality, the lists show the owner's name, property description and value, and the amount of tax assessed.

Abstracts of Tax are statistical summaries of taxable property within a county and do not record the names of individuals.

Special Tips:

  • Records are usually arranged by date and then by locality, not by the owner's name
  • No family relationships are recorded on tax records
  • The names of renters do not appear on real estate tax records
  • Ownership of land is not proof of residence

County Offices

    • Auto Titles
    • Circuit Court
    • Court of Appeals
    • Court of Common Pleas
      • Civil Division
      • Criminal Division
      • Domestic Relations
      • Juvenile Court
      • Probation Department
    • District Court
    • Justice of the Peace
    • Probate Court
    • Superior Court
    • Supreme Court
  • COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES (Department of Public Welfare)

Updated: 04/08/2021 03:22PM