Despite record losses in many courthouses across the country, it is possible to overcome the gaps using fundamental research strategies. While many of the events of people’s lives can never be fully reconstructed, details can be gleaned from other records to piece together families and the arcs of individual lives. Records created after the courthouse loss, or by other government jurisdictions, or by private organizations, all reveal important details about people. For researchers, a courthouse disaster does not necessarily mean a dead end. It means broadening the field of research.
Broaden the search to other jurisdictions. Land, military, and tax records created or copied by the state and federal governments are the most common sources used to fill in gaps created by courthouse disasters, but many other types of records exist. For urban dwellers, seek out city records.
Broaden the search to private entities. Newspapers hold vast amounts of historical information. Church records may provide evidence of residence and vital dates. Business records, such as a store ledger, could lead to clues.
Broaden the search to other repositories, like libraries, historical societies, and archives. Identify those that collect records relevant to whatever county is involved. Remember that collections may be limited by subject rather than geography, such as the archives of a religious sect. A comprehensive research guide—such as the revised edition of Georgia Research: A Handbook for Genealogists, Historians, Archivists, Lawyers, Librarians, and Other Researchers—will provide details about records, jurisdictions, and repositories beyond the county courthouse.
Broaden the search by expanding the research techniques. Look to friends, neighbors, and extended family. Study migration patterns to learn about the family before and after they lived in the burned county. Methodically disprove possible relationships to narrow the list of probable relationships.