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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in November 2013. It is an excerpt from their course US Court Records  by C. Ann Staley, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Contents

National Archives Resources

What is ARC, AAD, OPA and the Guide to Federal Records?
As earlier indicated, more and more finding aids and indexes to federal court records are appearing on the Web. The National Archives website is no exception. On the website you will find four resources―the ARC, AAD, OPA and the Guide to Federal Records.

Archival Research Catalog (ARC)

ARC is an online catalog of the archives nationwide holds in the Washington, DC area, regional archives and the presidential libraries. With more than 75% of their records being cataloged in ARC, you will find a substantial amount of court records listed. As of July 2012, ARC holds selected document images or indexes to 35 different sets of federal court records including:

  • Selected Documents from the Records of the District Courts of the United States, 1685-1991 This collection contains 202 digitized photographs from District Courts throughout the Midwest with dates from 1893-1976. The collection is at the National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri (formerly Central Plains Region).
  • Selected Criminal Case Files of the United States Circuit Court, Southern District of New York, 1790-1912 Digitized documents in this collection relate to slave trading criminal cases and include indictments, subpoenas, depositions, and jury verdicts. There are 77 digitized images and the collection is held by the National Archives at New York City (formerly Northeast Region).
  • Criminal Records, Case Files, 1791-1883 This series of criminal records includes 29 digitized documents from 10 case files tried under the Alien and Sedition Acts. They are for sessions occurring from 1799-1801, United States Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Names include Thomas Cooper, William Duane, Langford Herring, Morris Llewellyn, Benjamin Meyer, and Conrad Fahustock. This collection is held by the National Archives at Philadelphia (formerly Mid-Atlantic Region).
  • General Case Files, 1855-1930. United States District Court. Southern District of Illinois at Springfield 186 documents from 4 case files relating to William Newby, who applied for Union veterans pension in 1891. He was a Southern Illinois resident, who was thought to have died in the Civil War. Since his claim was disputed, a legal battle ensued that ended up in the Supreme Court. This collection is held by the National Archives at Chicago (formerly Great Lakes Region).
  • Fort Smith, Arkansas: 50,00 Criminal Case Files. This particular collection has not been digitized; however, it is interesting in that it contains 49,888 criminal case files consisting of (but not limited to) indictments, arrest warrants, subpoenas, judgments, and appeal papers. The collection is held by the National Archives at Fort Worth, Texas (formerly Southwest Region).

NOTE: The National Archives’ holdings the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) was permanently retired on August 15, 2013. You can still search descriptions and digital content using the Online Public Access (OPA) search on National Archives website. Details about Online Public Access can be found on the National Archives website.

To view the complete list of over thirty-five topics on records of U.S. District Courts, go to: National Archives website.

Suppose we’ve heard that Sam Woodward was tried for murder at Fort Smith, Arkansas, during the 1880s. To determine if there might be some substance to that statement, let’s go to the National Archives ARC and conduct a search.

Step 1: Go to National Archives website.

Step 2: In the search box type “Sam Woodward” in quotes. Then click on “Search”.

Step 3: Bingo! Four hits. (Click on “View all Description Only” to see all four results.) After clicking on the link provided for results item, you will be taken to the “Archival Description” page. Under the “Details” section you will be provided information about the item. Under the “Scope and Content” section, you will find the crime listed. As we exam the hits we notice that all four involve a court case at Fort Smith for a Sam Woodward, 1886, 1891, and 1893 (2). We find that in 1886, a Sam Woodward was charged with assault; in 1891, Sam Woodward was charged with escaping; in 1893 there are two cases in which a Sam Woodward is charged with murder. Hmmm, is this one man or two different men?

Step 4: Obtain a copy of each file. Unfortunately there are no digital images of the case files online and no microfilm of these case files has been produced. Our options then are limited to going to Fort Worth and viewing the file, or hiring NARA or an independent researcher to get a copy of the file for use. The 1886 Case File #200 has been processed as a PDF file and is available online on the Woodward-Geiger.com website.

Access to Archival Databases (AAD)

AAD is the second resource at the National Archives website. It provides online access to records found in approximately 475 historic databases that have been preserved by NARA. They were selected because they identify specific persons, geographic areas, organizations and dates and cover a wide variety of civilian and military functions. There are not as many court records available in this collection, but you never know what surprises it may hold in its over 50 million unique records.

Some of the databases you will find include:

  • Data Files Relating to the Immigration of Russians to the United States, created, ca. 1977-2002, documenting the period 1834-1897.
  • Index to the records of the trust territory of the Pacific Islands, 1731?-1986. Records concerning immigration and law and legislation are included.

Online Public Access (OPA)

The third resource at the National Archives website is OPA, which is their “online portal” to their records. It provides access to all records in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), selected records from the Access to Archival Databases (AAD), one million+ records from the Electronic Records Archives (ERA), the Archives.gov website and the Presidential Libraries’ websites in a “streamlined search experience.” However, as with most search engines it might be more advantageous to search each database individually.

Guide to Federal Records

The last resource we’re going to talk about is the Guide to Federal Records. This Guide provides information on federal records at the record group level. You can search an alphabetical index, by record group topics, record group number or by a keyword. If we searched for record group number “123” the Records of the United States Court of Claims would be presented. Each of the nine sub-categories would be available for further investigation:

123.1 Administrative History

123.2 Case Files for General Jurisdiction Cases 1855-1966

123.3 District of Columbia Case Records 1880-87

123.4 Departmental Jurisdiction Case Records 1883-1949

123.5 Congressional Jurisdiction Case Records 1884-1952

123.6 French Spoliation Case Records 1885-1908

123.7 Indian depredation Case Records 1891-1918

123.8 Records of the Guion Miller Enrollment of Eastern Cherokees

123.9 Cartographic Records (General)

Looking at the description of the files in “123.2 Case Files for General Jurisdiction Cases 1855-1966”, you will find that it contains both textual records and maps in 194 items. The case files are for claimants’ suits for war property damage, use and infringement of patent rights, government contracts, and more.

NARA Finding Aids

  • Preliminary Inventory #116: Records of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (RG 21) (1959)
  • Preliminary Inventory #124: Records of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (RG 21), compiled by Marion M. Johnson (1960)
  • Preliminary Inventory #136: Records of United States and Mexican Claims Commissions (RG 76) compiled by George S. Ulibarri. (1962)
  • Preliminary Inventory #58: Records of the United States Court of Claims (RG 123) compiled by Gaiselle Kerner (1953)
  • Special List 31: List of Pre-1840 Federal District and Circuit Court Records, compiled by R. Michael McReynolds (1972)

National Archives Facilities

National Archives in Washington, DC

700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20408-0001

Telephone: 866-325-7208

URL: National Archives in Washington, DC

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Archives II, National Archives at College Park, Maryland

8601 Adelphi Road

College Park, Maryland 20740-6001

Telephone: 866-272-6272

URL: National Archives at College Park, Maryland

Available services: Archival Research Room


National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri (formerly Central Plains Region)

400 West Pershing Road

Kansas City, Missouri 64108

Telephone: 816-268-8000

URL: National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri

Email: kansascity.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota


National Archives - Lee’s Summit Federal Records Center

200 Space Center Drive

Lee’s Summit, Missouri 64064-1182

Telephone: 816-268-8100

URL: National Archives - Lee’s Summit Federal Records Center

Available services: Research Room

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


National Archives at Chicago, Illinois (formerly Great Lakes Region)

7358 South Pulaski Road

Chicago, Illinois 60629-5898

Telephone: 773-948-9000

URL: National Archives at Chicago, Illinois

Email: chicago.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Services Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin and Federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.


National Archives - Dayton Federal Records Center

3150 Springboro Road

Dayton, Ohio 45439-1883

Telephone: 937-425-0600

URL: National Archives - Dayton Federal Records Center

Email: frc@nara.gov

Available services: Research Room

Maintains corporate and personal case files from the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio bankruptcy courts since 1991.


National Archives at Philadelphia (formerly Mid-Atlantic Region)

Robert N.C. Nix Federal Building

900 Market Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107-4292

(Entrance is on Chestnut Street between 9th and 10th Streets)

Telephone: 215-606-0100

URL: National Archives at Philadelphia

Email: philadelphia.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Services Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.


National Archives - Northeast Philadelphia Federal Records Center

14700 Townsend Rd.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19154-1096

Telephone: 215-305-2000

URL: National Archives - Northeast Philadelphia Federal Records Center

Email: frc@nara.gov

Available services: The research room is closed to the public. The forms, found on the website, must be used for court records or accessed directly through the courts.

Services Delaware and Pennsylvania.


National Archives at Boston (formerly Northeast Region)

Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center

380 Trapelo Road

Waltham, Massachusetts 02452-6399

Telephone: 781-663-0130

URL: National Archives at Boston 

Email: boston.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Microfilm Research Room

Services Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.


National Archives at New York City (formerly Northeast Region)

One Bowling Green, 3rd Floor

New York, New York 10004

Telephone: 866-840-1752

URL: National Archives at New York City

Email: newyork.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Serves New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


National Archives at Anchorage (formerly Pacific Alaska Region)

654 West Third Avenue

Anchorage, Alaska 99501-2145

Telephone: 907-261-7820

URL: National Archives at Anchorage

Email: alaska.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains records retired from Federal agencies and courts in Alaska.


National Archives at Seattle

6125 Sand Point Way NE

Seattle, Washington 98115-7999

Telephone: 206-336-5115

URL: National Archives at Seattle 

Email: seattle.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains records of general historical and genealogical interest.


National Archives at Riverside

23123 Cajalco Road

Perris, California 92570-7298

Telephone: 951-956-2000

URL: National Archives at Riverside

Email: riverside.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in Arizona, southern California, and Clark County, Nevada.


National Archives at San Francisco (formerly Pacific Region)

1000 Commodore Dr.

San Bruno, California 94066-2350

Telephone: 650-238-3501

URL: National Archives at San Francisco

Email: sanbruno.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in northern and central California, Hawaii, Nevada (except Clark County), the Pacific Trust Territories and American Samoa.


National Archives at Denver (formerly Rocky Mountain Region)

17101 Huron Street

Broomfield, Colorado 80023

Telephone: 303-604-4740

URL: National Archives at Denver 

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.


National Archives at Atlanta (formerly Southeast Region)

5780 Jonesboro Road

Morrow, Georgia 30260

Telephone: 770-968-2100

URL: National Archives at Atlanta 

Email: atlanta.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival and Microfilm Research Rooms

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.


National Archives at Fort Worth

2600 West 7th Street, Suite 162

Fort Worth, Texas 76107

Telephone: 817-831-5620

URL: National Archives at Fort Worth

Available services: Microfilm Research Room


National Archives at Fort Worth (formerly Southwest Region)

1400 John Burgess Drive

Fort Worth, Texas 76140

Telephone: 817-551-2051

URL: National Archives at Fort Worth 

Email: ftworth.archives@nara.gov

Available services: Archival Research Room

Maintains retired records from Federal agencies and courts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.


National Personnel Records Center (Civilian Records)

National Personnel Records Center, Annex

1411 Boulder Boulevard

Valmeyer, Illinois 62295

URL: National Personnel Records Center (Civilian Records)

Available services: Records Center, National Personnel Records Center

Maintains civil service personnel-related records of former Federal civilian employees whose employment ended after 1951.


National Personnel Records Center (Military and Civilian Records)

National Personnel Records Center

1 Archives Drive

St Louis, Missouri 63138

Telephone: 314-801-0800

URL: National Personnel Records Center (Military and Civilian Records)

Email: MPR.center@nara.gov

Available services: Research Room

Serves as the central repository for military (1949 and prior) and civil service (1850-1951) personnel-related records.

Affiliated Archives

NARA has chosen various facilities as Affiliated Archives. Various records, that by formal, written agreement with NARA, have been designated as accessioned holdings of the National Archives. URL: Affiliated Archives

  • HABS/HAER Division, National Park Service, Washington, DC
  • Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 
  • Pennsylvania State Archives, Bureau of Archives and History, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 
  • State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico 
  • U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
  • U.S. Military Academy Archives, West Point, New York 
  • University of North Texas Libraries, Denton, Texas 
  • William W. Jeffries Memorial Archives, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
  • Yellowstone National Park Archives, Wyoming


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US Court Records

offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 18 September 2014, at 20:22.
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