Court records are usually searched after other records have already been investigated, but they should not be overlooked. Court records can establish family relationships and places of residence. They often provide occupations, descriptions of individuals, and other excellent family history information. Watch a class about U.S. Court Records.
Many of your ancestors' names will be found in court records—perhaps as defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, or jurors. They may have participated in cases involving:
||Appointment to public offices|
||Civil and criminal lawsuits|
Many other matters brought before a court.
Because of their great importance to family history research, United States Probate Records and United States Naturalization and Citizenship are discussed separately. Divorces are discussed under United States vital records.
Unfortunately, court records tend to be difficult to use. The records are usually not well-indexed, there are many records, court names and jurisdictions changed, and they use many legal terms and abbreviations. To interpret court records you may need to consult a dictionary, such as:
The National Center for State Courts has created a web site for ease in finding information about and address of individual state courts. There are three main types of legal cases you may find in court records.
Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary. Sixth Edition. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, 1990. (Family History Library book 340.03 B564L 1990.)