Hawaii Court Records

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This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Hawaii Family History Research series.
History of Hawaii
Hawaii Vital Records
Census Records for Hawaii
Background Sources for Hawaii
Hawaii Maps
Hawaii Land Records
Hawaii Probate Records
Hawaii Court Records
Hawaii Tax Records
Hawaii Cemetery Records
Hawaii Church Records
Hawaii Military Records
Hawaii Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Hawaii Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Hawaii Immigration
Ethnic Groups of Hawaii
Hawaii County Resources
Map of Hawaii


The “Act to Organize the Judiciary” of 1847 set up four levels of courts in Hawaii: the state supreme court, the superior courts, circuit courts, and district courts. Each of these courts have records of genealogical value. Many of these court records are on file at the Hawaii State Archives and on microfilm at the FHL.

The state supreme court in Hawaii has final appellate jurisdiction in all cases from inferior courts and original jurisdiction to issue all writs over its appellate jurisdiction. Supreme court cases prior to October 1904 are filed with the first circuit court records. If it was an appeal from the first circuit, the records were filed with the original case; if the appeal was from another circuit, the case was given a first circuit number according to the type of case. For example, if a probate was appealed from the second, third, fourth, or fifth circuit, the appeal record will be filed and indexed as though it were a first circuit case. Supreme court cases after October 1904 are filed with the state supreme court clerk’s office.

The superior court of law and equity is an appellate court for most cases and a court of origin primarily for cases involving the government, admiralty affairs, bankruptcy, and foreign officials. In 1852 the original state supreme court was abolished and the superior court became the state supreme court.

On 1 January 1893 the circuit court was organized into five districts as follows: first circuit (Oahu); second circuit (Maui, Molokai, and Lanai); third circuit (Kau, Kohala, and Kona on Hawaii); fourth circuit (Hamakua, Hilo, and Puna on Hawaii); fifth circuit (Kauai and Niihau). This division continued until 1943 when the third and fourth circuits were combined, the fourth circuit was abolished and the Island of Hawaii once again became the third circuit court. These courts are over criminal cases, probate cases, and divorce cases. Juvenile cases are under the circuit courts in a family court division.

Family court cases usually involve paternity, guardianship, adoption, FC (misdemeanors and felonies), UCCJ (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction), miscellaneous, and domestic abuse. The only type of family court records that are restricted and not open to the public are cases involving adoption, paternity, and guardianship. Others can be viewed at the courthouses as long as they are not marked confidential.

There are four district courts (or justice courts) in Hawaii with divisions the same as the circuit courts. There are smaller districts on each island. Their jurisdiction involves minor criminal and civil cases.

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