This past week I had the occasion to go up to the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue, to look for divorce records. The archivist trundled out 4 huge bound books on a book cart, for me to look through. They were the indexes for the civil court cases in King County, Washington, from 1890 to 1900, and 1900 to 1906; two books indexed by the plaintiff's name (the person bringing the lawsuit), and two by the defendant's name.
These cases cover the whole range of civil (not criminal) legislation - everything from divorce (which is what I was looking for) to adoption, naturalizations, medical malpractice, personal injury, and just suing the next-door neighbor because he was noisy after 11pm. These are just the indexes; the actual cases (denoted by the case numbers) are on microfilm, also at the Puget Sound Regional Archives.
And none of these are online.
For every estate inventory you find online (for example, those of Revolutionary war veterans) there must be thousands, if not millions, of others in files, in boxes, in books, tucked away in dusty (or well-kept) corners of courthouses and state archives. Among the 476 pages of photocopied material I brought back from my visit to the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh is an estate inventory for Mary Stacy, deceased, widow of Buckner Stacy, who lived in Montgomery County, North Carolina. This was dated March 31st 1849, and is a fascinating look at a time and place long vanished:
1 pot, oven & hooks
2 baskets of grind stones
11 bushels cotton seed
5 bushels corn
1 sow & 8 choice shoats [young hogs]
1 coffee mill
1 lot crockery
1 pr. sheep shears & scissors
1 pr. steelyards & candle moulds
lard stand & contents
1 Bed & furniture
100 lbs. bacon
1 lot sugar & coffee
Most of these items sold for just a few cents; the most expensive item on the list was the wagon, which sold for $22. The names of the community members who bought these items are illuminating, too - many of them were the sons-in-law of Mary & Buckner, and a granddaughter, Eliza Stacy, bought a looking glass for 92 cents.
Along with this inventory, I also brought home an inventory and a will for Buckner Stacy, who died in 1842. His much shorter inventory included:
1 black mare 24.60
1 bay mare 70.85
1 dark red cow 7.00
1 black heifer 2.26
10 head of sheep 9.00
These last items were obviously slaves. One of the stipulations in Buckner Stacy's will was "that my executor should expose to publick sales my negro man West and the proceeds be applied to pay my debts".
Yes, it was a different time and place.