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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 ($).

Local and Statewide Courts

Local and statewide courts have carried, and continue to carry, a variety of names and jurisdictions. Some of those courts are listed below (but not to the exclusion of others). Some will be familiar to us while others will make us scratch our heads in wonder.

  • Chancery courts
  • Common pleas courts
  • County courts
  • Court of County Commissioners
  • Court of Equity
  • Court of Errors and Appeals
  • Court of General Sessions
  • Court of Hustings
  • Court of Inuiry
  • Court of Oyer and Terminer
  • District court
  • Ordinary court
  • Orphan’s court
  • Prerogative court

Local Court Officials

Titles, duties, and jurisdiction of local court officials vary from state to state and are revised with the needs of the time. Common titles include (but not to the exclusion of others):

  • Clerk of the Inferior Court
  • Ordinary
  • Clerk of the Superior Court
  • Sheriff
  • Constable
  • Clerk of Circuit Court
  • Coroner
  • Domestic Relations District Court
  • Justice of the Inferior Court
  • Public Defender
  • Justice of the Peace

We will find the particulars for the titles, duties, and jurisdiction for specific time periods within the state statutes. In Georgia, state statutes creating a county will, in addition to describing the boundaries of the new county and their derivation, include the identification of county officers, the courts (including when the court sessions would occur), and the election precincts.

Records of the Courts

A court can be a “court of record” (one required by law to keep a permanent record of its proceedings) or a “court not of record” (one not required by law to keep permanent records).

Court records you may find include (but are not limited to) the items listed below.

A docket is a volume containing brief abstracts of the successive proceedings in a case. There are several different types of docket books including bench dockets and execution dockets. The docket will generally contain the names of the attorneys, names of the parties (plaintiff and defendant), type of action, and a brief summary of the actions.

Case files contain original unbound papers filed in connection with the court proceedings. Unfortunately, all too often, the case files are incomplete and interfiled (parts of another case may be commingled with another court file). You may find them hidden away in a basement or attic of a courthouse in chronological order (if there is any order). When complete, case files may contain the following items:

  • Complaint (filed by the plaintiff)
  • Answer (filed by the defendant)
  • Interrogations
  • Depositions
  • Affidavits
  • Orders and decrees of the court
  • Exhibits and evidentiary material

On occasion, artifacts are found within the case file. Generally the surviving artifacts (very small in number) are items which were used as evidence during a trial. The case files sometimes include photographs, samples of counterfeit money (both bills and coins), and an occasional weapon.

Record Books and Final Record Books - There are many types of record books used throughout the judicial system. Federal courts also used record books for a multiplicity of purposes.

Minute books (sometimes called journals) contain brief abstracts of the daily court proceedings (when the court is in session). In order to obtain a feel for the vast diversity of the courts, it is wise to peruse the court minutes for a specific time period in our geographical region, e.g., county or town (if we are conducting research in one of the New England states), in order to understand the workings of our ancestor’s communities.


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 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 17 September 2014, at 17:36.
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