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.

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