Introduction to Red Book: Court Records
This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Court systems and the records they produce are outlined next for each of the states. Although naturalization and divorce records are matters for courts as well, they may be discussed in other sections. In this section the concentration is on civil and criminal court records. Although each of the state’s County (or Town or Parish) Resources section indicates the first dates when some court proceedings are extant in that location, the exact court from which those records emanate is not necessarily indicated.
The value of civil and criminal cases found in court records is in the portrait they paint of the lives involved. Civil cases regarding debt are historically the most common concerns coming before a local court. Inability to pay a debt may have provided a reason for leaving an area as well. But there are numerous other types of disputes gracing the pages of court records, including divorces.
Criminal court records, or at least the results of them, are often detailed in the pages of newspapers if not through the court records themselves. The proceedings are likely to be much more detailed than civil court cases and allow a glimpse of the strains of life experienced by our ancestors.
Nearly all states have too large an array of court records to be discussed in total here. Instead, referring to the discussion in this section will provide a background understanding with which to guide your research. For a more comprehensive discussion of records generated by court proceedings, see:
Arlene H. Eakle, “Research in Court Records,” in Szucs and Luebking, eds. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1997).