Arkansas Court Records
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This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Courts with countywide jurisdiction are circuit, chancery, county, and justice of peace. Jurisdiction varies from county to county, but generally circuit courts hear criminal, naturalization, and major civil cases. Chancery courts have jurisdiction over equity, divorce, probate, and adoption cases. County courts have jurisdiction over juvenile, tax, and claim cases, as well as county financial matters. Justice of peace courts hear preliminary criminal and minor contract cases. These records are generally available from the time of the county’s organization except in those counties where records were destroyed by fire or other causes. Courts of common pleas existed during the territorial period, but no records remain. The county clerk’s office maintains records for all courts functioning in the county. Because jurisdiction varies, check each county for its procedures. Many county court records have been microfilmed by the FHL, and copies are held at the Arkansas History Commission. To access the microfilm number and determine which records have been microfilmed, see www.ark-ives.com/selected_materials/index.php.
The state supreme court has appellate jurisdiction from lower courts, and its records can be valuable for those counties with record losses. This particular group of records was indexed in Joan Thurman Taunton’s Abstracts of Arkansas Reports: January 1837 through January 1861 (Hot Springs, Ark.: Arkansas Genealogical Society, 1988). Jack Damon Ruple, Genealogist’s Guide to Arkansas Courthouse Research (n.p., 1989), is also useful.