Ohio Research 101

When I started tracing my family tree (more years ago than I care to admit to), I found myself lucky that I was living so close to where several generations of my ancestors lived. I was happy as a lark going to courthouses, libraries, and the Ohio Historical Society. As I became more involved with genealogy and started talking to people from outside Ohio, I kept hearing what I thought was a strange comment: “Ohio is such a hard state to research.”

I didn’t think so; perhaps it was because that was what I got used to first. But I can see how some people would be frustrated by researching in Ohio. Ohio, being the first state carved out of the Northwest Territory, became the guinea pig for how the Federal government would do land surveys. We have more surveys with different setups than any other public land state. (I’ll devote a post to Ohio’s land surveys later. It really is a topic unto itself.) Ohio didn’t take any state censuses and our Federal census for 1810 is no longer extant. Early marriage records typically don’t record parents’ names.

All that being said, there are some wonderful things about Ohio research. Marriage records go back to the creation of the county. Civil birth and death records date to 1867 (and in some counties, 1857). Land and tax records are remarkably complete.

Let’s take a quick survey of some basic records and where you will find them in Ohio:

Vital Records:
Marriage records date to the creation of the county. (Which is true for all states formed from the Northwest Territory.) They can be found in Probate Court. Many have been microfilmed. The Ohio Genealogical Society has published two volumes of early Ohio marriages: through 1820 and 1821-1830.

Birth records date back to 1867. (A handful of counties participated in a pilot program to record births and deaths in 1857 and 1858.) They can be found in Probate Court. After December 1908, births began to be filed in the city or county health department. A copy was also forwarded to the State Vital Statistics office in Columbus. You can find copies in both the county and with the state.

Death records also date to 1867 (again, with a few counties recording them in 1857 and 1858.) Like birth records, the records from 1867-1908 are in the county Probate Court. Deaths after December 1908 can be found in either the city or county health department or with the state. Death certificates from 1908 to 1953 are at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. Death certificates after 1953 are at the State Vital Statistics office.

A new developement for researching Ohio death certificates dated 1908-1953 is that they have been digitized and are available for free on the Internet! FamilySearch has also created an index of the name of the deceased and the parents’ names. It is an invaluable tool. Go to http://labs.familysearch.org to register. After they process your request (usually a couple of days), you will be able to go in and research not only the Ohio death certificates, but also the 1900 census and numerous other records.

Wills and Estates:
Found in the probate court. Many have been microfilmed.

Land and Tax Records:
Found in the County Recorder’s office. Again, many have been microfilmed.

Military Records:
Ohio has a long, rich history of military service. Ohio contributed the third most soldiers to the Union during the Civil War (following only New York and Pennsylvania.) Many of the records of the State Adjutant General have been transferred to the Ohio Historical Society. One fantastic resource the the statewide Graves Registration file at OHS. It records the burial place of veterans buried in the state of Ohio through the early 1950s. It is also available on microfilm. Many County Recorders still maintain the files for their counties (meaning that they have not only the early burials, but also the post-1950s as well.)

Major Repositories:
Ohio is fortunate to have an incredible network of archives, libraries, and societies with resources for genealogists. I will devote a future post to this topic, but here are a few:

  • The Ohio Genealogical Society, the largest state genealogical society in the nation. Their library in Mansfield has nearly 30,000 volumes and a sizeable microfilm collection. They publish the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, the OGS News, Ohio Records & Pioneer Families and the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal. They also sponsor lineage societies such as First Families of Ohio, devoted to honoring those who lived in Ohio by the end of 1820 (a great resource for those with early Ohio ancestors.)
  • OGS Chapters. There are Chapters of the Ohio Genealogical Society in almost every county of Ohio. They have published countless volumes of records for their counties. Be certain to contact the society in the counties you’re researching.
  • The Ohio Historical Society in Columbus serves as the official state archives. They have a tremendous collection of original and published materials. Be certain to check their website, including their online catalog, before visiting.
  • The Columbus Metropolitan Library. In early 2007, they received what had been the genealogy collection at the State Library of Ohio. If you haven’t been to CML for awhile, you really need to check them out.
  • Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. Indispensible resource for northeast Ohio research.
  • The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. One of the largest genealogy collections in a public library in the Midwest, if not the nation.

More to come!
Each of these topics will be covered more in-depth in future posts. I hope this has at least whetted your appetite for Ohio research!

Posted: January 19, 2008.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Amy,

    I realize how difficult it was to limit your favorite technology in each category to one… but you did an amazing job. Thank you for the great article.


  • How amazing! I opened my email and saw the OHIO and fell off my chair! I have been researching Jackson/Gallia counties since 2003 and still have not found my 2nd Great Grandparents! I have read histories of Jackson, Franklin, Bloomfield and other townships in Jackson County.

    At least now I know that it is not JUST ME, that others have a devil of a time with Ohio. I promise you I know every early settler in that part of Ohio by name. If southeastern Ohio was a frying pan, it would gleam from so much scrubbing!

    Thank you for the moral support.

    Signed, Lost in Jackson County,

    Susan Elder