Help from Public Officials
Very often you have the opportunity to write a letter to public officials to request a birth,
marriage or death record, military records, land or court record or to librarian of a public
library or genealogy society library. In order to ensure your success, here are some
Typing is preferred for legibility and double spacing is great. Leave lots of white space on
your letter for clerks to write a quick answer back to you. Include your return address on
your letter and include a self addressed, stamped envelope with your request.
Request a photocopy of the original record, not a certified extract. The cost is usually the
same, but you will get all the information the record contains, not just what will fit on the
Calculate search dates carefully. Clerks vary in their search policy; some will check the
records for a wide range of dates and some will only check a small bracket of years. If the
surname is a common one, be as specific as possible.
MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Keep your letters brief and to the point! State just the facts.
Clerks are not interested in your family stories.
If you receive an answer that says there is no record, wait a couple of months and try
again. Sometime a different clerk knows where certain little-used records have been
If you don't receive an answer, send a courteous reminder, refer to the letter you sent, give
the check number and date (if you sent money), briefly restate your request and send
another self-addressed, stamped envelope. Your first letter may have gone astray.
When a clerk goes out of their way to help you, send a thank-you note. Express
appreciation for their help. This will help the genealogist who writes the next letter!
Tip of the Month
Relationships in genealogy can be deceiving. Don't jump to conclusions when you
encounter terms of kinship in the old documents. "Brother" may simply mean a brother in
church, in a lodge, a husband of a sister or just a term among friends. "Cousin" may refer
to someone closely related such as a nephew, niece, uncle, etc. "Senior" or "Junior" may
not always be a father and son. It could also mean an uncle and nephew or may simply be
a way to distinguish two men of the same name from the same place according to age.
Remember that a "junior" may become a "senior" on the death of the elder.
Welcome to GenToday-L
Federal Court Records
The Genealogy Lady established the "Genealogy Today" newsletter in
April 1997. She answers questions online at New-Jerusalem.com, and
sells books at her Genealogy Book Store.