Hancock County, Georgia, Courthouse Burned

All that remains of the Hancock County Courthouse

Another huge loss for genealogists and historians: Property deeds, birth and marriage certificates and many other vital records dating back to 1795 were destroyed when most of the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta burned down early Monday.

The fire broke out around 3 a.m. on Monday, August 11. When fire crews arrived, the building was engulfed in flames. The cause of the blaze is unknown. The building and its contents appear to be a total loss.

An earlier photo of the Hancock County Courthouse

Some of the records held in the Sparta County Courthouse apparently were microfilmed some years ago. The FamilySearch catalog lists copies of many of the earlier records as being available on microfilm and/or online. However, fewer listings are shown for twentieth century records.

You can read more in the WMAZ web site at http://goo.gl/1RVjjo.

My thanks to newsletter reader W. David Samuelsen for telling me the sad news.



I visited this courthouse abt 15 years ago. It was a beautiful old building, needing some updating. I had ancestors in that area that I’ve not had a chance to research. Looks like I waited too long.


    Check the FamilySearch listing for the area. These records may have been microfilmed and available at a Family History Center in your neighborhood.


While doing some research in Hancock county I received this reply:
Here is another bit of info for you that another of the DAR members knew.
The courthouse records in Hancock are a shambles. Fortunately they were reproduced and are in the Sparta Library on microfilm.


And I had been meaning to go there for years and never made it. I have early ancestors “lost” in Hancock County, GA. What a shame.


How absolutely horrible. It seems surprising to me that this could happen in an age where fire suppression technology is commonplace. Since electrical issues are the usual culprit, rewiring these old buildings should be near the top of the official to-do lists. Expensive, yes, but protection of a government building should be a priority, I think.

I’ve seen the charred remains of two beautiful Texas courthouses in the past – Hill County (which burned in 1993 and was restored to its former glory by 1999 with help from local son Willie Nelson and worldwide donations) and Newton County (which burned in 2000 and was reopened in 2012, having sat abandoned for 6 of those years due to lack of funds). Ironic that two of the most exquisite courthouses in the state would be the two that would burn, in each case, leaving nothing but walls. Here’s a link to a recent article about this issue in Texas http://www.county.org/magazine/features/Pages/2014July/Can%27t-Stand-the-Heat.aspx.


I’ve been in Countless Courthouses throughout the U.S. Many old Courthouses. Many of which have there records in a Fireproof Vault. Many of them have learned their lesson, unfortunately, some have not. The Ozark County Courthouse has a picture of the Courthouse fire in the 1960’s hanging on their Wall. A nice reminder to not let records get burned again. And not to forget the worst three fires. The 1972 Military Records. The 4 Courts Fire in Dublin, and of course, The Governments destroying their own records, or should I say, our ancestors records.


    I have been in many older courthouses that do have a “fire proof” vault but as long as their record collections keep growing they run out of space and only part of the records are in the vault. The County Clerk will make a decision that the property records are the fastest growing collection and they come out of the vault so the vital records can continue to be in there. Of course that is the time I need to find a deed. I agree that the county commissioners need to keep up the maintenance on their buildings better than they currently do.


I live in a historic home very close to the Courthouse. The fire was so intense that embers were flying all over town, we’re lucky that nothing else was lost. It burned so hot that there is no way to determine the source of the fire. Most residents feel it was arson. We found out late yesterday that the insurance will cover all replacement cost. and luckily a twin of our courthouse is the Walton County courthouse. In the 1990’s when they were restoring it they came to Sparta and took detailed photo’s and measured drawings, so we’ve got good documentation of the structure. Also a structural engineer determined that the remaining walls are sound and can be used in the reconstruction. It is a shame that an employee removed all the historic documents from the vault and converted the vault into her office. I personally think that should be considered a crime. But nothing will come of it.
My grandmother had a saying which seems to apply to almost all elected officials, local, state and federal, Both Democrats and Republicans. “Buzzard in the Eagle’s nest”


OMG. I just located the county website and then this article. I feel like I’ve lost family, too, in this tragic fire although I’ve never been there; my plan was to be there [coming across country] in 2 weeks to research my Grandmother’s family in GA…


I visited this courthouse many times in the past ten years because many of my family settled in the county. I had direct access to the vault, historical records, no security, what a mess, not kept and unprotected. The judge was seated at a desk in the area near me, when she was present. Anyone, at the time, could have come in, picked up a record, and walked right out the door without bags being checked. My thought was, the last time I visited, something is going to happen and all the old records are going to be destroyed, because they never shut the vault door…. and to hear, not to my surprise, that the judge moved all the historical records out of the vault so she could have more room is a dishonorable to the county and its history. What a tragedy.


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