Recounting My Experience
I’m writing a brief post documenting my experience with an afternoon of research at the Hamilton County Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati. Perhaps it might help or inspire someone else.
For some reason I have avoided courthouse research, but I knew there were things I must get there, things not available elsewhere.
I began at http://www.courtclerk.org/cpciv_namesearch.asp, which is the “Common Pleas Civil Names Search.” It was helpful to copy this chart, from elsewhere on the Clerk of Court’s site, to use as reference:
|Help for Case Number Formatting|
|Case Numbers must be entered in the format of their court of jurisdiction as shown below.|
|Common Pleas Civil||A9707417|
|Common Pleas Felony||B9805800|
|Court of Appeals||C9700980|
|Domestic Violence||Not available online.|
|Common Pleas Execution||EX9800001|
|Common Pleas Misc.||M9800002|
|Common Pleas – Stalking||Not available online.|
|Municipal Cert. of Judgment||00CJ28500|
|Common Pleas Cert. of Judgment||CJ99001070|
|NOTE: Municipal Criminal/Traffic case numbers must be entered using the format shown above. The cases begining with a “C” are county cases and the cases beginning with a slash (/) are city cases. The slashes (/) must be included. Do not include the charge code (A, B, C, etc.) at the end of the case number. For felony cases the category will be “CRA”, for traffic it will be “TRD” and DUI’s are listed as “TRC”.|
I didn’t use this to enter case numbers, but to help interpret what I found. As it turned out, the very older cases I found (from the first three decades of the 20th century) did not have any letters in front of the case numbers.
The name search worked fine for my purposes. I had a few possibilities in mind, but didn’t necessarily know the years; and I certainly didn’t know the case numbers. The name search form requires a last name and a first initial. If you just put in a last name, it will not perform a search.
Old Records Not Digitized
I did find some digitized records, but they were recent and not of any immediate interest to me. In most cases, when I got a hit in my search, the information provided online was minimal.
The Example of My Great-Grandparents’ Divorce
I knew that my great-grandparents, John and Jennie Grinker, were divorced in about 1908, based on brief articles of court news found through my newspapers.com subscription and my genealogybank.com subscription.
When I entered John Grinker’s name in the name search online form, I got:
By clicking on John Grinker’s name in this result, I got:
|Search results for a party name like: GRINKER JOHN|
|Party Description||Filing Code||Case Date||Party Info|
|CJ Indicator||Disposition Code||Disp Date||Image #|
There were two links to click on here: the case number and the party/attorney info. Clicking on either of these brought me to a “Case Summary” page, but the only information there – singularly unhelpful – was a message saying:
The case number that you entered was not found.
I had this experience repeatedly, with the names of several ancestors.
The good news was that when I phoned the Clerk of Courts office and asked if this meant that there was no record of this case, I was told that there was a record, just not a record online.
Go To the “Paper Room”
I was told I needed to go to the Paper Room at the Court House.
The Paper Room is not listed on the building directory at the elevators. When I first came in, I asked the guard stationed before the security checkpoint. He told me it was the Law Library on the 6th floor.
I was doubtful. When I got through security and got to the elevators, I saw that the Clerk of Courts was on the 3rd floor. I went to the 3rd floor and lucked out. The first person I met in the hallway said, “That’s where I work. I work in the Paper Room. Follow me.”
Turns out, if you go to the Clerk of Courts area, someone will direct you to the Paper Room.
Not All Staff Are Equally Adept
When I got to the Paper Room in the early afternoon, the gentleman who helped me was nice but not able to find most of the things I was looking for. I gave him three of the case numbers I had found.
- One was John Grinker’s, which I assumed was the divorce. When I searched on Jennie Grinker’s name, the same case number had come up, and she had shown up as L-1 (i.e. Litigant One), to his L-2. So it was likely their divorce (it was).
- One was the case number of another presumed divorce, probably in the 1920s (I didn’t know for sure)
- The third was a case number in the 1950s.
The staff member was only able to find the third case number for me. It was more recent, and actually had an “A” before the numbers, denoting a “Common Pleas Civil” case, as on my reference table, above. I knew it to be a lawsuit.
The one he found was on microfiche.
He searched mightily for the two older cases, but he decided the records did not exist.
But all was not lost! He told me that another staff member was “really good” at finding these things, and that she would be back from lunch in 20 minutes.
Don’t Give Up; Work With A Staff Member Who Specializes
I won’t put her name here. But my advice is to ask if there is someone else in the office who might be able to find your records.
This lady knew her stuff. She found both divorce records. She obviously takes pride in her knowledge of the ins and outs of the old records. Both divorce records were on microfilm.
It Doesn’t Go Quickly; It Isn’t Self-Serve
In both cases – the microfiche and the microfilm records, the staff members used both their computers and drawers in a back room to search for the items I needed.
And, in both cases, the staff members loaded the readers, operated those machines, and made the copies. There was a big sign that insisted that only staff could use the machines. But I could pull up a chair and look over their shoulders, no problem.
The process of finding and making printed copies for me was a tedious process. I was there for 2 – ½ hours and ended up with fewer than 50 pieces of paper, covering the three cases.
But the Service is Great, and Inexpensive
I got individual attention from staff members the entire time. The charge to me, ten cents per copy, was less than $5.00. It cost me more than twice that to pay for parking in the area.
I Think I Was Lucky
I was lucky that the very adept staff member was there and that she was not otherwise occupied. I was also lucky that she seemed genuinely interested in providing the service to me. Finally, she gave me her name and phone number at the office, if I needed more assistance. I was impressed!
Next time I come to Cincinnati, I will go for further research, calling in advance.
Before I left, my excellent staff member gave me a handout that began with an article about Hamilton County Courthouse fires. They occurred well before the 20th century, which was my interest. However, if you are interested in records from the 19th century and earlier, I recommend you phone the Clerk of Courts, ask for the Paper Room, and see if they can forward their courthouse fires article to you.