The adoption of the Ordinance of 1787 by the federal government provided for the legal establishment of the first governmental unit in Ohio, the township.
A surveyor was appointed by Congress to divide the Ohio Territory into five or six mile square units. The square plats were marked into numbered units one mile square or 640 acres. These lots then were offered for sale to the public by the federal government. Section 16 was reserved for the establishment of a township public school.
When Ohio became a state in 1803, the township also became a political subdivision of the state. As such, the township has only those powers granted to it by the state legislature and performs its functions as directed by the state.
Over the years, these functions have changed or grown. In 1804, provisions were made to care for the poor, maintain the roads and the peace of the township, to register livestock brands, and in general, to serve the basic needs of township residents. Elected officials were required to perform these duties: a board of three trustees, a clerk, two overseers of the poor, a select number of highway supervisors, a justice of the peace, and constables. In later years, a treasurer, an assessor, a board of education and health were added. Currently the number of elected officials has been reduced to three trustees and a clerk, each elected to a four-year term. They fulfill their duties on a part-time basis. The other previously mentioned elected officials have become obsolete as have their functions. County or municipal government has assumed many of these responsibilities for the obsolete offices.
The state legislature has granted the township the latitude to provide a wide variety of services to the public which allow for a more modern and workable local government. Some of these services include: artificial lighting on any public road, place, or building within township boundaries and outside municipal limits, the care and management of cemeteries, waste disposal, zoning, police and fire protection, and township road and ditch construction, care, and maintenance.
Types of Records
Indentures or Apprenticeships were a method of providing for the care, education and vocational training of children. Any male child under the age of 12 and any female child under the age of 18 could be indentured by his or her parents or guardians. The person the child was apprenticed to agreed to provide for the child's care and training in a particular trade. In addition, the township trustees were empowered to bind out any orphan, destitute child, or the child of someone unable to provide for the child. The indenture was recorded with the township clerk within three months of the execution of the document.
Section 16 Records contain information about the sale by any township of Section 16, which was set aside for the support of township schools. Thus, Poll Books often provide the researcher with a very early list of the adult males residing in the township. This list was then recorded by the Auditor, but the originals may be found in the township records.
Cemetery Deed Books may also be found in township halls. Township trustees were empowered by the state to purchase or otherwise obtain land for a township cemetery. They were authorized to sell lots and were required to keep a record of deeds to these lots. Today township trustees are responsible for the maintenance of all abandoned cemeteries.
Poor Relief Records. During the 19th century, township trustees were required to furnish Poor Relief or support to paupers legally residing within the township boundaries. The clerk was required to keep a record of the paupers and of all relief expenses incurred.
Enumerations of School-Aged Youth were taken annually as one of the duties of school directors in the township. Every unmarried youth between the ages of 6 and 21 (later between the ages of 5 and 18) was to be listed, with a notation of each child's race and sex. An abstract of the Enumeration was to be given to County Auditor. Many townships still have the original enumerations in their holdings. Some not only give the children's names and ages, but also the parents' or guardians' names and addresses. These records are good sources for locating the names of children between census years and before 1850.
Board of Education
Now obsolete, the township Board of Education, from its establishment in the early 1850s until its consolidation in 1914-1915, was responsible for all educational functions on the local level. These included: building and maintenance of schools, purchasing supplies, employing teachers, curriculum selection, collecting of assessed taxes for school support, and providing for the distribution of those monies for school needs.
In 1914, the township Board of Education, which consisted of five township members elected at large along with the township clerk/treasurer as ex officio member(s), was transformed into a rural school district. The township Board was supervised by the County Board of Education.
The records of the obsolete township Board of Education may be found listed under the respective townships or under the County Board of Education.
Board of Health
Ohio laws continually have made provisions for health care in the state. It was not until 1893, however, that the laws pertaining to local Boards of Health with the township trustees as members were reorganized. The township clerk served as the clerk for the new board. The township Board of Health could appoint a health officer and as many sanitary officers as necessary. The Board of Health's duties included the prevention or restriction of disease, inspections of dairies, food establishments, and the like, and the calling of quarantines if required.
In 1919, township Boards of Health became obsolete when they were consolidated with County Health Districts/Boards of Health by an act of the Ohio legislature.
The records of township Boards of Health may be found listed under the township or county health districts/boards.
Board of Trustees
The Board of Township Trustees consists of three members elected to a four year, part-time term. They are responsible for the supervision and maintenance of all township functions. In the early days of township history, the Board of Trustees cared for the poor, maintained the roads, preserved the peace, and registered brands.
Today, the board's responsibilities include providing for the artificial lighting of any public road, place, or building under township supervision, excluding cities and villages, the care and maintenance of township cemeteries, providing for sanitary waste disposal, rural zoning, police and fire protection, township road and ditch construction and maintenance, and other services as needed.
The Township Clerk is an elected official serving a four year, part-time term. Besides assisting the Board of Trustees with their duties, the clerk is responsible for administering and allocating the township funds, keeping the minutes of board meetings, and administering all records of the township.