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County Archives Inventories

County Archives Inventories

The Historical Records Survey

The Roosevelt administration established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the depression of the 1930s to create jobs and boost economic growth. One project of the WPA, begun in 1936, was called the “Historical Records Survey”. Its purpose was to inventory public records around the U.S., and to assist local authorities in preserving the records and making them accessible to the public. Teams were set up in most U.S. counties and State capitals to locate old courthouse records and inventory them. Historians on the project researched and wrote about the historical development of state and local governments. Although Federal funding for the project was discontinued in 1939 before most county reports had been completed, many states continued to sponsor the effort for several more years. In its short life this organization generated a huge number of reports that are still useful for genealogy and history. Many of them are now freely available online at Hathitrust.org or Internet Archive.

For a two-page introduction to the Historical Records Survey by popular genealogy author Loretto Szucs called “The WPA: 60-Year-Old Investment Still Yields High Dividends”, scroll down to page 20 at the linked magazine.

Here’s a more detailed explanation by reference librarian Bryan L. Mulcahy entitled, “Works Progress Administration (WPA) Historical Records Survey”. The author included a list of cities and states where historical records surveys were completed, beginning on page 9. Note that reports on the majority of U.S. counties were never published. You’ll also find a list of websites containing WPA records, on page 13. Many of these links are broken, but by googling the titles you can still find most of the records.

Publications of the Historical Records Survey

After the Historical Records Survey project was terminated, the WPA issued a final report in 1943 containing a complete list of its publications to that date, entitled “Bibliography of Research Projects Reports; Check List of Historical Records Survey Publications”. There are about 1,800 entries. One of many reasons for checking this bibliography is to get the correct title of reports that you may be seeking. Some states used different names for the same type of publication. This bibliography shows that the Historical Records Survey concerned itself with far more records than those found in county courthouses. It has details for about 15 categories of documents, including inventories of federal archives in the states, state archives, municipal and town archives, vital statistics, church archives publications, and more.

As was mentioned by Loretto Szucs in her article cited above, many of the inventories left unfinished by the WPA were later completed by other organizations, even as late as the 1950s. Even for counties where inventories were never published, the research notes collected by the inventory teams were usually preserved. The WPA’s final 1943 report mentioned above states that “A large amount of material gathered by the Survey was in varying stages of completion when the program was discontinued, a volume estimated to be eight or ten times greater than the volume of material represented by the publications listed in this final check list.” p. 2. That material was normally deposited in State Archives.

Finding Courthouse Records Online

FamilySearch has a huge quantity of court records online, but the quantity and type vary greatly from state to state. Here’s how to find their online court records for your state:

Go to this FamilySearch Search page.

On the map on the right (“Research by Location”) click the U.S. to pull up a list of states and then click your state.

Scroll down to the major heading “Image Only Historical Records” and choose “Probate and Court”.  Many states have vast collections here.

Or, scroll down to the major heading “Catalog Material” and browse the choices. Again, there are huge collections here for you.

Good Luck! This is where a guide is really helpful; the county archive inventory for that county, or one for another county in the same state.

Links to County Archive Inventories in the Great Lakes States

To find county archive inventories in other states, use the search term “Inventory County Archives [state]” in Hathitrust. If it isn’t there, search in the Internet Archive.

Inventories of the County Archives of Illinois

The following county reports are all at this link:

1. Adams
5. Brown
8. Carroll
9. Cass
10. Champaign (Urbana)
12. Clark
18. Cumberland
20. De Witt
21. Douglas
25. Effingham
26. Fayette
28. Franklin
39. Jackson
43. Jo Daviess (Galena)
48. Knox (Galesburg)
53. Livingston
54. Logan
56. Macoupin
65. Menard
65. Menard
68. Montgomery
69. Morgan
70. Moultrie
71. Ogle
72. Peoria
74. Piatt
75. Pike
81. Rock Island
82. Saline
83. Sangamon (Springfield)
85. Scott
86. Shelby
88. St. Clair
89. Stephenson
92. Vermilion

Inventories of the County Archives of Indiana

The following county reports are all at this link:

2. Allen (Fort Wayne)
5. Blackford
6. Boone
11. Clay
18. Delaware (Muncie)
25. Fulton
28. Greene
34. Howard (Kokomo)
38. Jay
46. La Porte
49. Marion (Indianapolis)
50. Marshall
53. Monroe (Bloomington)
55. Morgan
65. Posey
71. St. Joseph (South Bend)
73. Shelby
79. Tippecanoe
80. Tipton
82. Vanderburgh
87. Warrick
90. Wells

Inventories of the County Archives of Michigan

2. Alger

4. Alpena

7. Baraga

9. Bay

13. Calhoun

16. Cheboygan

25. Genesee (Flint)

35. Iosco

36. Iron

52. Marquette

61. Muskegon


An inventory was also completed for Jackson county, but could not be found online.

See our Books & Articles on Places in Michigan

Inventories of the County Archives of Ohio

The following county reports are all at this link:

1. Adams
3. Ashland
5. Athens
7. Belmont
8. Brown
15. Columbiana County
24. Fayette
25. Franklin (Columbus)
28. Geauga
31. Hamilton (Cincinnati)
32. Hancock
40. Jackson
42. Knox (Mt. Vernon)
43. Lake
47. Lorain
48. Lucas (Toledo)
49. Madison
57. Montgomery (Dayton)
66. Pike
71. Ross
73. Scioto
74. Seneca County
76. Stark
77. Summit (Akron)
78. Trumbull
84. Washington

Inventory of the Municipal Archives of Ohio

There are just three volumes here; all for Cuyahoga Co. (Cleveland)

See our collection of Vintage Periodicals in Ohio

Inventories of the County Archives of Wisconsin

The following county reports are all at this link:

3. Barron
6. Buffalo
9. Chippewa
10. Clark
16. Douglas (Superior)
17. Dunn
18. Eau Claire
22. Grant
27. Jackson
32. La Crosse
37. Marathon (Wausau)
41. Monroe
43. Oneida (Rhinelander)
46. Pepin
48. Polk
54. Rusk
55. St. Croix
58. Shawano
59. Sheboygan
60. Taylor
61. Trempealeau
62. Vernon
69. Waushara

See our Books on Social & Ethnic History in Wisconsin

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