I spent 6 hours yesterday (29 Dec 2014) in the Westmoreland County (PA) Courthouse in Greensburg. I started the morning in the Office of Wills and then moved upstairs to the Office of Deeds. I stopped on the way into the Deeds office at the information desk at the copy center and spoke with the person staffing the office. I heard the usual information: copies are $0.50 per page, no cameras, no scanners, use pencils, do not use your cell phone, indexes (grantor & grantee) are over here, and give us a list of the deeds you want and we will print them for you, settle the bill when you leave.
I asked can I print out the deeds from a computer? No, we will do it for you here in the copy center. Having been given the ground rules I went to work. I had a list of 34 relatives who lived in Westmoreland county between 1770 – 1870, but most of the children or grandchildren moved north into Armstrong and Indiana counties where most of my family is from. In addition, Armstrong and Indiana Counties were formed from Westmoreland, so I have sales of land, but not the original purchases. Those first purchases (and some warrants) had been made prior to the creation of the counties, meaning I needed to go to Westmoreland county for records.
I dropped off a list of deeds to print. A little while later I drifted back by the copy center to turn over more index entries and see where the cost was versus the cash I brought with me. When she said almost $50, OK, I’ve spent half my budget, time to prioritize deeds. She looks at me and asks a couple of questions:
- Do you have a computer at home? Well .. um yes, several actually
- Do you have a printer? Yes, got a couple of those too
- Why don’t you print these at home, for free?
What? Turns out I can print these deeds at home and access to the system is free and printing is free! When I needed to get a copy of an grantor page I returned to the copy center and chatted with the original gentleman for a few minutes and it turns out he is nearing retirement. He goes on to explain he has had several bad experiences with genealogists, so he does not tell them we can print things for free. He says the system is quirky (it is) and “you genealogists call and yell at him when you can’t find your deeds in the online system, and then complain about the research cost and printing fees“. What do I say to that? I promised if I could not find the deeds online I would not yell at him and I would have no objection to paying the research and printing fees.
Not good folks, not good. I hate hearing how rude we genealogists can be when pursing our ancestors. I have found, that the nicer you are the more to people, the more records they will tell you about that they have hidden away in the basement. Really, it works. Try it. Be nice and polite. Ask about someone’s day. Chat about the weather and don’t take up their time chatting about long dead relatives. Give people the chance to run through the rules (even though you looked them up online before visiting), and let them show you where the records and indexes are and explain how the indexes work. It only takes a few minutes, and so what if you have worked with these indexes in 20 other courthouses? It pays off in the long run, and in this case, can save you money!
What was the thing I learned today? Many genealogists are unintentionally rude when researching and it reflects badly on the community as a whole. Not what I set out to learn.
For those with relatives in western PA, all of the Westmoreland county deeds are online at: www.wcdeeds.us. But, before you go running off to your computer, there is one teeny tiny little catch: the deeds are online (and free to print), but the grantor and grantee indexes are not online! You still have to go to the Courthouse in Greensburg to figure out what deeds your ancestors were involved in. However, that is free too 🙂