Connecticut Court Records
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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG, in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
With court records, the researcher finds Connecticut’s centralization welcome, with many held at the Connecticut State Library. Despite this centralization, the array of courts whose records might include such things as debts, apprenticeships, warrants, and misdemeanors presents a somewhat complicated research challenge.
Justices of the peace, having been appointed by the General Assembly, represented the law closest to the people up to the early nineteenth century. What remains of many of these records are at the Connecticut State Library.
Before the creation of counties, the particular court was a court of first instance. “Records of the Particular Court of Connecticut, 1639–1663,” Collections of The Connecticut Historical Society, vol. 22 (Hartford: the society, 1928) conveys these proceedings before county courts took over. Original court records are in the Connecticut State Library.
In the next phase, between 1665 and 1711, the court of assistants became the trial court, and county courts were added. All criminal activities were the purview of the courts of assistants, as well as appeals from lower courts regarding disputes, including divorces. In 1711, the court of assistants was succeeded by the superior court, which remains part of Connecticut’s judicial system today. Records of the court of assistants (1665–1771) are generally available at the Connecticut State Library.
Superior court districts are defined by county designation. In the Town Resources section, the county is listed; however, in trying to determine jurisdiction for earlier records, listings of parent counties will be helpful. Records of superior courts operating in each county through the mid-twentieth century are generally available at the Connecticut State Library.
Those matters not in the realm of the superior court were heard by the county courts (initially called prerogative or common pleas courts). The county court, begun in 1666, was abolished in 1855, and its functions were divided between justice courts and superior courts. Most of the county court records, to its abolition date, are at the Connecticut State Library.
Courts of common pleas were authorized in the late nineteenth century to assume work that could not be handled by either the justice or superior courts. In 1961 the court system reorganized, abolishing justice courts, creating district courts, and retaining the county superior court and the statewide supreme court.
Two publications contain court records for the seventeenth century. J. Hammond Trumbull, comp., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 3 vols. (Hartford: State Printers, 1850–59) covers the years 1636–89 for the older colony. The equivalent records for New Haven are in Charles J. Hoadly, ed., Records of the Colony … of New Haven, 2 vols. (Hartford: State Printers, 1857–58). Volume 1 covers 1638–49; volume 2 covers 1653–64.