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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 ($).

U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals

If the result of a federal district court trial case is not to the liking of either party, the case may be taken to a federal appeals court. In the U.S. there are 12 regional circuit courts of appeals which hear appeals from the district court within their area.

The Judiciary Act of 1891, (also known as the Evarts Act), established the circuit courts of appeals and defined and regulated (expanded) the cases the courts had jurisdiction over. Most of the appeals came from the U.S. District Courts and the U.S. Circuit Courts.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

This court is an Article III court established on 1 October 1982 via a merger of the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the U.S. Court of Claims.

Court is usually held once a month in Washington, DC; however, the court can hear cases nationwide. Appeals are heard by a panel of three randomly picked judges. Appeals from this court go to the Supreme Court.

The court can hear appeals from all of the federal district courts, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the U.S. Court of International Trade, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and certain administrative agencies’ decisions. You can readily see that from the various courts mentioned, the appeals heard would include those involving government contracts, veterans’ benefits, patent laws, trademarks, money claims against the U.S. Government, and much more.

Supreme Court (RG 267)

The Supreme Court is the highest Court in the nation and besides ruling on constitutional laws, it adjudicates original or appellate jurisdiction cases arising under the laws of the United States, and treaties made under their authority; cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls; cases of admiralty and maritime law; controversies in which the United States is a party; and cases arising between one state and citizens of another state, two or more states, citizens of different states, citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, or between a state or its citizens and foreign states, citizens, or subjects. The U.S. Supreme Court also promulgates rules governing proceedings in bankruptcy, admiralty, and copyright cases; appellate proceedings in criminal cases involving federal law or constitutional issues; and criminal petty offense proceedings before U.S. Commissioners.

The U.S. Supreme Court will, generally speaking, be the least likely to provide information of genealogical value.


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.

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