Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hidden Genealogy Gem: Calcasieu Parish Records Online

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my recent courthouse visit to the Caclasieu Parish Clerk of Court's office in Lake Charles. I mentioned that I had to gone to the website beforehand and tried to learn everything I could about what records were available and which department held what records. I also mentioned a courthouse employee telling me about online access to land records. When he mentioned this, I just assumed he meant online access only while at the courthouse. I did not ask, and he did not mention, anything about online access from home.

Thursday night I was searching for information about the Calcasieu Citizens Tax Protective Services, Inc., which is the agency that purchased my great-great-grandfather's house in Lake Charles when it was put up for auction by the sheriff in 1964. When I searched for the name at Google, one of the results was the IT Services page of the Clerk of Court's website. I had ignored this page during my initial search of the website last month. Why? Well, because I just assumed it was some online resource for courthouse employees  to use if they had computer issues while at work. Basically, I thought it was the page of the IT department, and what does the IT department have to do with records or genealogy?

However, when I clicked on the link to the IT Services page Thursday night, I was utterly shocked. This is what I saw.

Suddenly, it clicked. Those records online that the land record employee was telling me about were actually available from my home computer! In fact, images were available! What??!!! And to top it off, not only are just the land records available, but marriage records too! What??? What/??!!!

Of course, I was initially excited, but then I started to wonder just how affordable this would be. In my past experience, courthouses with online records usually charge a couple hundred dollars for access, only making it affordable to lawyers, title companies, etc. However, I did a little more research, and found out that a one-day pass would cost $5 and a 30-day pass would cost $20. There were also several other options, such as an annual pass and whatnot. The pass would allow me to do all the searching and viewing of documents that I wanted. If I wanted to save a copy of a document or print it, I would have to pay the standard courthouse copy cost of $1/page. I don't know about you, but I can fork over $20 for genealogy anytime. Besides, I'm pretty sure that everything I need to find is findable in one month, since my ancestors have only been in Calcasieu Parish since about 1930.

Of course, as genealogy luck would have it, I had to find that database around 11 PM on Thursday night, so I did not have time to stay up and do research then. It was already past my bedtime. It was hard to stay at work all day yesterday knowing this database was waiting for me when I got home. Needless to say, I have been sleuthing around the database since last night (yes, I did go to sleep for a few hours).

The database is pretty easy to use, especially for records after 1987. You just type in a name and all the results with links to images appear. For the archived marriage and land records prior to 1987, you have to first choose which record type you want to search and then search for the surname. Then a scanned image of the index page will appear. Or, sometimes, multiple selections will come up for index pages, and you can select which one you want. You can also browse the index at this point. Once you find the name you are looking for in the index, you can type in the book and page number into the search engine at the top right hand portion of the screen, and it will bring up an image of that page. You can also browse the actual records from this point.

All in all, I would say that it's pretty neat. I found out some really great information about my modern day relatives. Some of it was the standard deed for the purchase of a home, but others showed juicy information about paternity and child custody cases. I also filled in the blanks for some of my great-aunts and uncles spouse's family information. 

My next step is to check out the Civil Records database. I think the fees are the same, but it requires a separate subscription.

So, don't forget to check out ALL the pages on a Clerk of Court's website. You just never know what genealogy gems you may find hidden.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday FANS: Venita Randall (Part 3)

Ok, I just had to do one more Friday FANS post on Venita Randall. As you'll recall from last week, we found out from living grandmother that Venita was her father's girlfriend. My grandma didn't think too highly of her, of course, but I still wanted to find out more about her. I began my quest at and tried to get beyond the city directories for Ponca City, Oklahoma, where I originally found Venita listed in the same house as my great-grandfather in 1952. I previously had traced Venita back in the city directories of Ponca City to 1946, when she was listed as Mrs. Venita Collins.

Turns out, even with a unique name like Venita, she was still pretty hard to pin down. In fact, I really don't know if either of the two Venita's I've found in census records are her or not. My theory was that Collins was a married name and Randall was a maiden name that she reverted back to using after a divorce. I have searched the online marriage record index at the Pioneer Genealogical Society's website for Kay County, Oklahoma, and I have not found a Collins bride by the name of Venita. If Randall was a second married name, they did not get married in Kay County. Of course, it is possible that Venita Collins' marriage to a Mr. Randall did occur in Kay County and is indexed under her maiden name, which is unknown at this time. The index is a .pdf document and not easily searchable.

Assuming Randall as the maiden name, the closest match I've found is a woman named Venita Randall living in Iowa, Doniphan, Kansas, in the 1930 census. I did some searching and found that Doniphan County is in northeast Kansas, near the Nebraska/Missouri lines. It's a good 300 miles from Ponca City. Venita was age 20, which suggests a birth date of 1910 (same year as my great-grandfather). She was born in Kansas and did not have a job. She lived with her father, Claude E. Randall, and an uncle, Obadiah Harness. Her father was a mail carrier and her uncle a farm laborer. Is this my Venita? Maybe, maybe not.

In 1940, I found a Venita Collins living in Prairie, Wyandotte, Kansas. She was age 30 and born in Kansas, the same age as the Venita Randall from 1930. Prairie is a suburb of Kansas City and 90 miles southeast of Iowa Township in Doniphan County. Venita lived with her husband, John W. Collins, age 32 and born in Kansas. He was a section hand for the railroad. There were no children. Interestingly, when looking back at the 1930 census, there was a John W. Collins living next door to Venita and her father who was about the same age. He was age 23 and a grocery merchant in 1930. Therefore, I'm pretty sure the Venita from 1930 is the same as the one from 1940. Is it my Venita? Still don't know. I'm assuming they must have moved from Doniphan County to the suburbs of Kansas City because of his job with the railroad. Could that have caused them to move to Ponca City as well? And, they lived in Topeka in 1935, according to the 1940 census, so it seems that they did move quite often. I'm no rail expert, but it looks like the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad ran through Ponca City and had connections in Topeka and Kansas City.

I decided to go back and check the Ponca City directories for a John W. Collins between 1942 and 1948, and I did not find one. Oh, well. For now, I think I'll put Venita Randall to rest. I better do that before my great-grandmother comes back to haunt me.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

SNGF: Fun with Mertena

My Saturday Night Genealogy Fun involved my Mertena line. This is the paternal line of my paternal grandmother. I've been working on FINALLY getting all of my sources for the Mertena family into my RootsMagic (RM) database. In fact, I've also been putting in a lot of the members of the Mertena family, since my RM database is my cleaned up database and hardly anyone is in there without any sources. In the last two weeks, I've input both of my great-grandparents' death certificates and obituaries; their marriage record; several of their city directory entries from Ponca City, Oklahoma, and Lake Charles, Louisiana; my great-grandfather's delayed birth certificate; my great-uncle Bill's death certificate, obituary, divorce certificate, marriage announcement, and a few city directory entries for him; my great-uncle Tony's obituary and photo his tombstone; and my great-aunt's marriage license. I've also added several to-do items to my great-grandparents and great aunt and uncles to-do lists.

Tonight I decided to start working on the sources for my great-great-grandparents, John Henry Mertena and Blanche Welden. So far, I've found their marriage record at FamilySearch.

I have several census records, death records, and obituaries to input for them as well. I believe I've even found Blanche's birth record from 1883 at Anyhow, I'd better get back to researching! Happy Hunting!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday FANS: Venita Randall (Part 2)

So last week I posted about Venita Randall, a woman found in the Ponca City, Oklahoma, city directory living with my great-grandfather, Merlen Paris Mertena. I couldn't figure out who this mystery woman was. She was listed as his wife, yet he was still married to my great-grandmother, Hassie Cora Proffitt, at the time. And my great-grandmother was nowhere to be listed in the city directory. The year was 1952, which is the year they moved to Louisiana and the year my grandmother was 17 years old. Lucky for me, Grandma is still living. She is the last one of my grandparents living, so I've realized how important it is to get as much information out of her as possible.

And, double lucky for me, Grandma did have an answer for me. This is one of those perfect examples where the ONLY source of this information is a living, breathing person. The information she gave me would likely not have been stated directly in any original source document. One of my theories was that Venita Randall was a roomer in either my great-grandparents' home or possibly in a house that they rented to her. She appeared to be a single, divorced woman from looking at previous city directories, in which she was listed as Mrs. Venita Collins. Another theory was that there was just some sort of mistake. Maybe since they moved in 1952, she had moved into their home after they moved out. Only problem was that he was listed with her at a new address in 1952; not the address from the previous city directories. Still, maybe they had moved within Ponca City sometime between 1948 (the previous directory available online at and 1952 and then moved to Louisiana. Or, perhaps, she was Merlen's girlfriend (gasp).

So, you probably want to know what Grandma said, right? Well, I'll take away the suspense. The last theory was correct. Grandma said that her dad did have a girlfriend, who, of course, was a fluzy. She said that she was heavy-set and wore her hair in a pompadour. And this said girlfriend worked at the same drug store as her older brother. Guess where Venita Randall worked, according to the 1948 and 1952 city directories? Yep, you guessed it, Crown Drug. She felt bad that her brother had to work with the woman and see their dad come into the store and talk to his girlfriend. Grandma said that one time she was in the store shopping and overheard her dad talking to the woman at the counter. Her dad did not see her in the store. When her dad left, she heard the woman say to her female co-workers that he was her boyfriend and she was bragging about the jewelry he had bought her. When her mother found out that he had also bought his girlfriend the same set of China as her, she broke all of her China out on the sidewalk in front of their house. Grandma said that he even took the girlfriend on a trip out west because her mother refused to go. She did not think they had enough money to travel out west. She said the move to Louisiana in 1952 was supposed to be a fresh start for Merlen and Hassie. I guess it was in a sense, but Grandma said that her parents were ill-suited for one another, and I suppose a move to Louisiana did not change either of them. Merlen was an adventurous soul who liked to drink a little too much, and Hassie was a perfectionist schoolteacher and daughter of a preacher.

Wow, and to think all of this information came to light because of an entry in a city directory....