Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another interesting fact from IGHR

Another of the insightful discussions from the Advanced Methodology course at IGHR this year concerned those Fee Books that you often find on courthouse office shelves and basements. Honestly, I think I can count on one hand how many times I've flipped through one of those books. Let's face it, when you're surrounded by vital records ledgers and wills and estates and court records and deeds and every other goldmine of information that a courthouse has to offer, something with the tedious title of "fee book" doesn't really do much for me. But the truth of the matter is, I was hurting my research and if you've been avoiding them too, you haven't done the best for your work either.

So what can these fee books possibly offer to us that would make them useful in any way? Well the most obvious answer is that you have done work in a burned records county, you know already that records are few and far between and you pretty much have to take what you can get. Fee books are often among the remaining records in these counties for various reasons, including that they were often kept in a different place from the vital records information, so when you're missing your subject in those goldmine records, these fee books may provide the only direct evidence that your subject was even there.

Which brings us to the next point. Our ancestors had civil duties back then, just as we do now. They were also called for jury duty, for instance, and this service was recorded as payment information in the fee books. Like previously stated in reference to the tax records, though this may just be a name and a bunch of numbers which appear to have no rhyme or reason, there could be answers in those numbers. But it's up to you to track down what they mean. Those numbers generally refer to the amount the person was paid for his service to the locale and this number was calculated using such variables as mileage from their home to the courthouse, how many days they were there (food costs), and more. But the mileage from the courthouse could be extremely valuable and I think any genealogist worth their salt could figure out why. Especially if you're trying to determine possible family connections between people of the same surname because you can use that mileage rate to help determine distances from the courthouse and then compare with your family plat map to see who lived closest to your subject and would therefore, be more likely to have a family connection. This is certainly not a source to provide conclusive evidence in this case, but it is definitely a good source to help point you towards some good, solid leads.

So, overall, I think I'm in the same boat as most everyone else. When faced with a will or probate book and a rather drab-sounding fee book, my first instinct is going to be to grab the will book first. But after this truly enlightening part of the IGHR course, I'm going to be sure not to stop with that alone. That fee book could offer up more than you expect, but you'll never know unless you take a look.


  1. What a wonderful piece of advice - I never thought about it like that, but I, too, have been avoiding a potentially useful resource. Thanks for turning my head in the right direction! And welcome to geneablogging!

  2. Belated note - I thought I had found this blog through the new list of blogs on geneabloggers, which was why I made that welcome comment - my brain is just noodles today, it seems! Great article, either way! XD