Start With the County: Florida Public Records at the Local Level
When you’re looking for official documents in the Sunshine state, start with the county. Florida public records that were generated since the 1960s are usually kept at the court house in the county in which the event took place. This includes all the usual records you might expect: birth, death, and marriage certificates; land deeds; tax rolls; wills and probate documents; civil suits; and criminal case proceedings. For the most part, you don’t need to be a mentioned in the document you’re seeking in order to get it, or even be a relative of someone in the document (birth records are a notable exception). All you need is the time and transportation to get to the court house, and cash in hand for copies (fees vary by county, but a good idea is to bring enough money to pay at least $1 per page).
At the county, Florida public records are usually readily obtainable, especially recent records. Some counties even maintain records dating back many decades into the past, all the way back to the 1850s in some cases. However, the availability of ancient records varies from county to county.
If you’re not sure if a particular court house has the records you need, be sure to call ahead before making a trip there, especially if the court house is far away from you.
Some counties in Florida make their public records available online, but this is still the exception rather than the rule. However, as time goes on, more and more counties are going the digital route. Even if your county has online records available, you still might have to make an in-person trip to see certain documents. Privacy laws mean that probate, divorce, and civil records regarding domestic issues can only be viewed in their entirety at the court house. For records such as land deeds, marriage licenses, and mortgages, however, you can usually see the entire document online.
Of course, you don’t have to go from county to county. Florida public records are also available through central databases maintained by record procurement services. A records procurement service is a big time-saver, since using one eliminates the need to go from court house to court house all over the state. It also saves money, since these services make an unlimited number of records available for one flat annual fee (or monthly fee, in some cases, depending on the service you use).