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Free County Public Records for Background Checks

Shortcuts to County Court Records Descriptions
Courthouse Index
County Recorder
Birth Certificate
Certificate of Adoption
Death Certificate
Marriage License
Divorce Records
Real Property
Property Tax Rolls
County Assessor
Probate Estate Filings
Building Permits
Occupational License
Certificates of Incorporation
Fishing & Hunting
Voter Registration
Tag Registration
Boat Registration
Court Records
Traffic Tickets
Parking Violation

Of all information sources, your county courthouse contains what is probably the most valuable data about individuals and businesses. The county clerk's office maintains the most useful information available, which can be searched either by accessing free public databases online (when available), or by requesting a copy from the agency holding the data -usually for a small fee.  See State Directory for individual State Records & Websites:

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If you need to know the name of the county in which a city is located, you'll find it in any good atlas, or check the US Postal Service Zip Code Directory. Since people move frequently, it might also be a good idea to make inquiries at courthouses in surrounding counties.

The county courthouse contains several "records" departments:

  • The Bureau of Vital Statistics keeps data pertaining to births, marriages, divorces, and deaths.
  • Court records are kept at the courthouse, including those of circuit, county, civil and criminal litigation.
  • The Department of Licensing maintains a variety of records including occupational and fishing.
  • You may find it necessary to search seemingly unrelated records in order to obtain certain facts that will lead you to pertinent information.
  • County data will help you with pre-relationship, child custody, pre-employment, tenant, business background, and asset investigations.
  • County data are often forwarded to the state capital in summary form for permanent storage, so if you need to see the entire document, first ask at the local county courthouse about where everything is stored.
  • The County Courthouse Book contains useful data about what is available in over 3,300 American courthouses.

Courthouse Index

Most courthouses maintain an "Index to Records" that will give you information about both the plaintiff and the defendant. This Index will also reveal the outcome of each action. The Index should indicate where complete documentation is kept concerning civil, criminal, and probate actions, IRS tax disputes, UCC filings, liens, assumed names, and final judgments.

County Recorder

The county recorder's office keeps records of births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. These may also be maintained by the state Department of Vital Statistics or the state department of health.

Most county recorder's offices require you to search personally. If the recorder's office clerks searches for you, you will likely be asked to provide very specific information. Many large courthouses will not conduct a search requested by mail. Inquire about procedures and fees before you begin your search.

Birth Certificates

You must furnish: Name and place of birth; month and year of birth

The records will show:
  • Mother' and father's name & occupation
  • Doctor who delivered baby
  • Date and place of birth
  • Certificate of Adoption

    These documents - except for non-identifying information - are usually closed.
    See, Adoption for more complete information.

    You must furnish: Name

    The records will show:
  • Child's name, date and place of birth
  • Place of adoption & occupation of adoptive parents
  • Natural mother's name
  • Adoptive parent's names
  • Death Certificates

    You must furnish: Name, place and approximate date of death

    The records will show:
  • Date of death
  • Surviving family members
  • Doctor who signed death certificate
  • Address
  • Military records
  • DOB, place of birth & SSN
  • Marriage Licenses

    Many states maintain indexes of past marriages. Marriages performed by a Justice of the Peace might be maintained separately from the actual marriage license or certificate. Ask the clerk to direct you or pull the documents for you. For further information, check newspaper and church records.

    To access these records, you will need: Names of persons who were married and the date of the marriage

    The records will show:
  • Addresses of both parties at time of application
  • Woman's maiden name
  • Both person's date and place of birth & occupation
  • Both person's blood type
  • Place of marriage; witnesses
  • Previous marriages and address of parents (sometimes)
  • Divorce Records, Grants of Annulment, Separation

    Divorce details are usually located in the Index of Divorce Records which are maintained with other vital statistics  - even though they are officially court records. Filings for divorce will be listed in the local paper. Also, check church records.

    You will need: Full name

    The records will show:
  • Names of both parties
  • Wife's maiden name
  • Where and when marriage took place
  • Addresses of the parties
  • Property settlements and child custody decisions
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    Real Property Records

    You will need to furnish: name or address

    The record will show:
  • All information pertaining to a real estate transaction
  • Buyers and sellers
  • Real estate agent and/or broker & title company
  • Power of attorney
  • Deeds and grants, abstracts and titles
  • Mortgage company and payments
  • Liens, pending action and judgments
  • Property Tax Rolls

    You must furnish: Full name

    The records will show:
  • Name and address of owner
  • Value of property
  • County Assessor

    The County Assessor has information about property, including plots and maps.

    The Assessor's records will include:
  • Full name
  • Owners of property
  • Assessed value of property
  • Probate Estate Filings

    These filings contain information about estates in probate. This data can be valuable if the deceased owed you or your business money. You may be an heir to money or property. Generally, you must have permission in the form of a court order to obtain any information.

    Building Permits

    Applications and permits granted for all building and construction are kept on file.

    You will need to furnish: Name of both owner and builder

    The records will provide:
  • Date and type of permit issued
  • Property description & inspection
  • Occupational Licenses

    This department has records of all applications for occupational and other business licenses.

    You will need to supply: Name

    The records will state:
  • Name and address and name of business
  • "Doing Business As" (D.B.A.)

    In this listing, you'll find the name of the person or persons involved in certain businesses, such as "Sam Spade," D.B.A. "Spade Investigations."

    You furnish: Name
    The listing shows:
    • Address of owner and address of business; fee paid
    • Name of publication D.B.A. notice appeared & date of publication

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    Certificates of Incorporation

    These list information by category, i.e., sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation.

    You will need to furnish: Names of principals; corporate or business name
    They will reveal:
    • Principal owners and their addresses

    Fishing & Hunting Licenses

    This department maintains fishing and hunting license applications and the permits granted.

    You must furnish: Name

    The records will yield:
  • Full name and DOB.
  • Address
  • Voter Registration Records

    Called "Registrar of Voters" in some states, the data this office keeps are referred to as "Precinct Books" or "Roster of Voter Registration." These may not be removed or copied. The county registrar will know where older records are kept, such as a local or state library or the state archives.

    You furnish: Nothing

    The records will furnish:
  • Name and address
  • Date of application
  • Political party
  • Former addresses (sometimes)
  • DOB
  • Vehicle Tag Registration

    These are indexed in some states by tag number only and in other states by tag number and vehicle owner's name.

    You will need to furnish: Tag number and/or name

    The records will show:
  • Name, address
  • Year, make, model, and serial number (VIN) of vehicle
  • Employer
  • Boat Registration

    The list contains information about all boats registered in the county.

    You furnish: Name of boat owner

    The records will reveal:
  • Boat type, length, etc
  • Full name and address of owner
  • Court Records

    Civil Index

    This Index lists all civil actions by date, names of plaintiff and defendant and will indicate judgments, liens, and a file number of the actual case.

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    County Civil Records

    This is court documentation involving actions under $1,500 that list names of plaintiff and defendant and contain all information relating to the outcome of the litigation, including judgments and liens.

    District Court/Circuit Court

    The records are of actions valued more than $1,500.

    Criminal Index

    This index is a roster of all criminal convictions for a certain time period. It discloses information about on-going cases. Each case is assigned a file number - which will be helpful when accessing county, district, or circuit criminal records.

    County Criminal Records

    Information about county-level misdemeanor cases here. County information is not mutually exchangeable: there is no repository. That's unfortunate, but may change in the future. Search State or National Criminal Records

    District/Circuit Court Criminal Records

    These contain information about felony cases. An individual's criminal record may contain a photograph (called a "mug shot") and often the name of the bail bondsman, who might have additional information which is not part of official records.

    Note: Criminal histories contain more information about an individual than any other single public record! In most, but, certainly not all states, this data is open to the public. Search State or National Criminal Records

    You furnish: Name and Date of Birth

    The record will list:
  • Full name, aliases, addresses
  • Spouse and dependents
  • SSN & DOB
  • Driver's license number
  • Occupation, employer, type of business
  • Physical description
  • Charges and transcripts of trials
  • Attorneys
  • Probation reports
  • Traffic Records Index

    This index lists all within the county and will give you the ticket number. With that number, you can pull the file.

    You must furnish: Name & Date of Birth

    The records will show:
  • Full name, address and DOB, including physical description
  • Driver license number
  • Traffic offenses (charges)
  • Traffic Tickets

    A traffic ticket will reveal information about a traffic violation. Search Criminal Records

    You must furnish: Name & Date of Birth
    You will see:
    • Full name & address
    • DOB
    • Physical description
    • Time, date, and place of violation
    • Officer's name
    • Tag number (and person vehicle is registered to, if different from driver)
    • Year, make, model, and color of vehicle.

    Parking Violation Bureau

    Information about parking violations.

    You furnish: Name & Date of Birth

    The records will indicate:
  • Time, date, place of violation
  • Make and year of automobile
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