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Finding Public Records: Home

Online Public Records

Each state has separate public records databases, which sometimes are separated even further by major city. Websites like PublicRecordCenter.com provide a “link farm” to different public records sites. However, some links lead you to “pay” sites, so pay attention to what type of website you’re looking at (.gov vs. .com). Another good geographic directory to the agencies and offices responsible for public records is maintained by BRB Publications

A city page will have a URL similar to: http://www.cuyahogacounty.us/.

Some counties have a more reliable “one stop shop” for public records, including Cuyahoga county. You will want to use records from reliable sources which may mean contacting these government offices directly.

Property Records

To find out who owns a specific piece of property, you will need to find property records, usually on file at the auditor or recorder office for the county the property is in. 

  1. Find out what county the property is in AND the auditor or recorder website for that county (see Ohio county agency lookup or link below).
  2. At the county's auditor or recorder website, look for an online database for finding the records you want.
  3. If there is no online database, contact the auditor or recorder office by phone and ask how to look at paper records or obtain paper copies.

Public Records Information

Public records are documents that are made freely available to the public by the agency that holds them. These records may or may not be accessible online, depending on the state or agency from which the records originated. You may need to request the information via phone or physically visit the agency or building, such as the court house, to access the records. Check with the agency's website first, but be prepared to call or travel to the location if necessary.

Public Records and Libraries

Libraries typically do not have any more access to public information than you do. However, libraries do subscribe to specialized databases that help with some kinds of proprietary information, such as corporate & industry profiles. Don't forget, librarians can help you navigate and find what you need, even on the internet -- we're used to searching for information, so don't hesitate to ask a librarian for help!

Confidential or private records

  • Public access to records such as employee records, student transcripts, patient health records, etc. may be restricted by the agency holding them or you will be required to have a FOIA request. 
  • You can usually always see your own records by request with proof of identification.

Other good sources for finding public records

  • Large public libraries (usually have good local historical & genealogical sources - print and online)
  • Historical societies
  • Archives
  • County courthouses
  • City Hall of any municipality
  • State agencies such as Dept of Health, Dept of Motor Vehicles

For more information on obtaining public records, see "Open Records and Meetings (FOIA)" from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Adapted from University of Dayton and Ohio University guides.

City Budgets

Court Records

Requesting Public Records

Many records are not available online, and must be requested from the agency or office who is responsible for the records.

The federal government operates in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Click to learn more about the FOIA.

State and local governments follow state laws. The National Freedom of Information Coalition maintains a directory to such laws in all 50 states.

Ohio's Freedom of Information Law

Sample request letters can also be found on the NFOIC website.

FOIA request letters

State Freedom of Information request letters