Berks County Courthouse User's Guide
IN THE BEGINNING, when Berks County was created, its governmental structure was vastly different from today. The Board of County Commissioners was elected by the people. The Governor appointed several justices to preside over the Court of Common Pleas and a Clerk of the Peace was appointed to oversee the various Justices of the Peace throughout the County.
The clerk of the peace also served as the Register of Wills, the Recorder of Deeds, and the PROTHONOTARY. The Orphans' Court was not separate from the County Court at that time. The probate of wills was under the control of the Register General of Pennsylvania. This Register also had the power to appoint a Deputy Register in each County. In 1752, James Read filled all county offices involved with the court as well as deputy registers.
State law changed many times over the next 75 years and various combinations of offices were held by the same people until 1838. At this time there was an election to elect the five "row offices" - the Register, Recorder, PROTHONOTARY, Clerk of Quarter Sessions, and Clerk of Orphans' Court.
I. Original Townships: 1752
A. From Philadelphia County
B. From Lancaster County
C. From Chester County
II. Townships by Date Creation
III. Township Creation
The office of the PROTHONOTARY is charged with overseeing the civil court system. It collects the fees and fines and maintains all records concerning the civil court system. For many years the older records for the PROTHONOTARY'S Office were kept in the basement of the Courthouse.
Seeing a need to accommodate people who need to use these records for research, plans were drawn to develop an archival room to better house these old records and offer the researcher a pleasant place to use the records. Courthouse and PROTHONOTARY staff gathered the records. They were cleaned, recorded and stored in a secure area until an area could be made ready.
Volunteers were called on to assist the PROTHONOTARY staff to prepare the room chosen for the Archival Center. Work progressed from June to October, 1997. The Official opening was October, 1997. The room is staffed by volunteers who, in addition to aiding the researchers, are working toward making the records more accessible. The current push is to provide an index system for the immigration records. Currently there is an index for the records from 1875 to 1926.
In addition, volunteers will begin repairing and preserving the older immigration records to assure that they will not be damaged while being used by researchers. These records are by far the most used records housed in the Archival Center followed closely by the divorce records.
The Naturalization records date from 1795. They include the application and final grant of citizenship. Information included on these records is date and port of arrival in the United States, place of origin, date of application, date of citizenship granting, signature of immigrant and sponsors. The records start after the founding of the United States. Also note that a person had to be here five years to apply, and seven years to become a citizen.
Volumes 1 through 18 grantor-grantee indexes which record the sale of a property by the Sheriff to satisfy a judgment or lien.
Starting in 1752 to 1924, these records contain civil proceedings for all types of cases, including divorces, contesting of Wills, breach of contract, and property disputes. The information includes the court term, case number, names of Sheriff, plaintiff and defendant and an occasional case disposition. The first volumes containing the first 70 years are separated by letter, not a true index. From 1824 on the records are indexed in separate volumes.
1770-1956 with separate indices. Contains the court term, case number, plaintiff and defendant names, the attorneys, and the case disposition.
Not as macabre as it sounds. These volumes dating from 1768 to 1960 with indices, records the money collected according to the judgment of the court. It will include the date of the writ, the court term, the case number, names of plaintiff and defendant, the amount of the judgment and the date of return and satisfaction.
From 1836 to 1937, these records show liens filed against a property by a contractor to ensure payment for services rendered or materials furnished for construction or renovation. The information includes the court term, the names of the parties involved, the case number, the amount of the judgment, the date of the return and satisfaction.
1861 - 1927. Liens filed against specific properties for non-payment of taxes or municipal services. Information includes name of defendant, court term, case number, date of filing, description of property and amount due.
Indices by locality of all properties with liens filed against them.
There are a group of books that are very interesting to page through. These are called Register Books. They include a register book for midwives. There is a register for stallions, yes, for horses. There is a register book for Attorneys. There is a register book for Osteopaths, Dentists and Optometrists.
There are docket books that list divorces, drunkards, lunatics and ejectments. There are partition dockets which generally refer to the partition of real estate to satisfy a decedents wishes. There is a three volume Circuit Court. These are court records of Judges who would literally ride a pre-determined area and hold court in their community. A circuit for his area might have included Berks, Schuylkill, Lehigh County rural areas.
One final bit of humor. You will find in these books kept more than 200 years ago. Doodles! Actual doodles on the empty pages of these leather bound ledgers, you will find doodles!