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Because they can be difficult to use, search the court records of Canada after other records. They can give:
- Family relationships.
- Places of residence.
- Descriptions of individuals.
- Family history information.
Because of their importance to family history, several types of court records are discussed in other sections: "Probate," "Notarial," and "Naturalization and Citizenship."
Other court records include:
Equity or chancery courts, which handle disputes between individuals where there is no violation of law.
Other civil courts, which handle cases when an individual (but not society) has been harmed.
Criminal courts, which deal with violations of law such as theft and murder.
Coroners’ inquests to determine cause of death, which are also classified as court records.
Court records are difficult to use because:
There are many records.
They are not well indexed.
Court names and jurisdictions change.
They use many legal terms and abbreviations.
To interpret court records, a legal dictionary can be helpful, such as:
- Black, Henry Campbell. Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, annual. (FHL book Ref 340.03 B564L; computer number 502342.)
The following article describes the process of finding reported court decisions:
- Sparling, Lois. "Using a Law Library for Family History Research," Chinook: The Journal of the Alberta Family History Society. Winter 1998, 33, 36–39. (FHL book 971.23 D25a; computer number 736593.)
Many court records have been lost in fires or destroyed to save space. Some have been preserved at courthouses and at national and provincial archives. Contact the archives to ask about their records. Names and addresses of courts are in:
- Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (FHL book 971 E4ca; computer number 160632.)
- Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ont.: Southam Inc., annual. (FHL book 971 B5c; computer number 819162.) Editions before 1998 were called:
- Corpus Almanac & Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ont.: Corpus Information Services, annual. (FHL book 971 B5c; computer number 490918.)
The Family History Library has probate and notarial records but few other court records. See the research outlines of the provinces and the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
[PROVINCE] - COURT RECORDS
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - COURT RECORDS
The names and functions of provincial courts have changed considerably through the years. Presently, many provinces have three levels of courts:
The Superior or Supreme Court.
This has two divisions: (1) the Trial Division (or Court of Queen’s Bench) hears serious civil and criminal cases and has authority to grant divorces; (2) the Court of Appeals hears appeals of civil and criminal cases from the Trial Division or from lower courts.
(Often) midlevel county or judicial district courts.
These courts have been eliminated from some provinces. County courts hear criminal trials of certain serious offenses and civil cases involving more than a specified amount of money.
Lower-level provincial courts or their equivalent.
Provincial courts handle lesser matters and are often divided into civil (small claims court) and criminal divisions.
Probate or surrogate courts which deal with wills and estates are separate from other courts, although they are usually presided over by county or Superior Court judges.
The administration of justice rests mainly with the provinces. However, the Supreme Court of Canada is the ultimate court of appeal in both civil and criminal cases throughout the country. Federal courts were established at these times:
1867. Federal courts (created by the Constitution Act of 1867 and later acts and amendments)
1875. Supreme Court of Canada
1971. Federal Court of Canada (replaced the Exchequer Court of Canada which began in 1875)
The Federal Court of Canada has two divisions:
The Trial Division has jurisdiction in claims against the Crown and miscellaneous cases involving the Crown.
The Federal Court of Appeals hears appeals from (1) the Trial Division, (2) other federal tribunals, and (3) decisions of federal boards and commissions.