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Researching Court Records

This article is part of a series.
Overview of Court Records
Court Procedures
Equity Cases
Probate
Divorce Actions
Types of Court Records
List of Court Record Types
Researching Court Records
Selected Proceedings and Courts
Justice of the Peace Courts
List of Useful Court References
Topics

This article originally appeared in "Court Records" by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, FUGA, Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

As suggested earlier, an Internet search either on your home computer or at the nearest public library is the best way to get an overview of what has been published and where the published records can be found and used. Unfortunately, there is no complete bibliography of titles or websites containing compiled records. A search of the online catalog of the regional library would be helpful as would use of http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/open/default.htm. Below are some suggestions about other places to look.

  1. Published state archives. Most of the original colonies/states authorized publication of original court records in series called archives. Such compiled volumes as Pennsylvania Archives and Maryland Archives are examples. Complete sets are available in several large research libraries and some are available online. Consult Benjamin Barnett Spratling III, "Court and Legal Records," in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, for a state-by-state (and colony) guide to compilations of this nature.56
  2. Local histories, particularly those published around the turn of the nineteenth century, may contain extracts or transcribed court records. Some are accurately reproduced with careful indexes; some have many errors. Be sure to check for appendixes, special sections of documents, and quotations in the middle of town and family sections. Early histories are becoming more accessible due to digitization, so use sites that feature these publications.
  3. Abstracts, extracts, indexes, and complete transcripts of court records can be found in journals, occasional publications, annual volumes, and special series. These can be accessed through a search of the Periodical Source Index, referenced in chapter 3, "General References and Guides."
  4. William Jeffrey Jr., "Early New England Court Records: A Bibliography of Published Materials," contains a listing of the records published, the dates covered, name of court; title, author, and bibliographic data of printed volume; description and index; brief analysis of editing done and omissions.57
  5. Evarts B. Green and Richard B. Morris, A Guide to the Principal Sources for Early American History (1600-1800) in the City of New York, contains a separate section of printed sources, including court records, found in various record depositories in New York City. They are arranged by subject and thereunder by state and locality.58
  6. Bradley Chapin, Criminal Justice in Colonial America, 1606-1660, is a valuable description of courts and their jurisdictions and specific crimes for which punishment was meted out before 1660 in America.59 The author includes a list of selected cases and a full bibliography of early sources. Since there are no printed reports, few indexes, and missing volumes for this period, the list is especially valuable. The genealogist who is searching for an American ancestor in this early period will benefit from a careful study of this book.
  7. Volumes of court records have been published privately, by societies, archives, universities, and the trade press. For example, Joan W. Peters Military Records, Patriotic Service, & Public Service Claims from the Fauquier County, Virginia, Court Minute Books, 1759-1784.60

References

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