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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Newspaper Records  by Rhonda McClure. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Court Trials

Court trials, at the least the outcomes, are published in the newspapers, and may be found in many different places, often wherever there is space. Sometimes we see ongoing trials described in more detail.

James Haning, a transient, on Tue., 27 Oct., was convicted of burglary at Superior Court in New Haven and sentenced to be whipped 15 stripes, have his right ear cut off and be branded with B on the forehead.
The Connecticut Journal
November 6, 1767

While this may seem a bit extreme, we must look at it in the construct of the time. However, if you were a descendant of James, this entry may answer a question as to why he was missing his right ear or why the family histories do not give any details about his life.

There are different types of courts, and the information you find in the newspaper may actually save you time when you begin working with the court records.

                                                      Police Matters.
Daniel Wineberg was arraigned in police court this morning charged with obtaining money from Peterson Bank by false pretense. He was arrested yesterday in Wilmington by Officer Kershaw. He was held in $500 bail to answer, while the witnesses were held in $100 each to appear against him. Wineberg is a foreigner and boarded with Mr. Heacock on Pine street between Sixth and Seventh.
Chester Times
February 2, 1883
Chester, Pennsylvania

Court Notices

Like many of the types of announcements that we have looked at, there are also times when the newspaper will list the various court cases that are on the docket. These don’t give much detail, other than the charge and perhaps where the case is in regard to motions or settlement. However, following these entries in the newspaper can prove useful when trying to find records in the court. In additional to establishing a time line, it also indicates the court to which you should direct your energy or request.

Court Notices
The Courier-Journal, December 22, 1880,
Louisville, Kentucky.
Divorce Records

Divorces, though usually consider with vital records because they are linked to marriages since they are the dissolution of the marriage, are actually court records. When it comes to listing them in the newspaper, they may be found in a number of different places, including in the court notices as well as being separate news items. The entries in the court notices can be especially useful in determining when the final decree was given and any unique issues that came up during the entire proceeding.

Mrs. Ruby N. Blacknall Enters Divorce Suit Against Harry Blacknall

Claiming that for ten years her husband had made her life miserable by insults and cruelties, Mrs. Ruby N. Blacknall has filed suit for divorce against Henry S. Blacknall, asking that he be enjoined from molesting her in any way, as she feared that he would do her bodily harm.
She says that he told her that if she instituted divorce proceedings he would kill her, and that rather than let her have the custody of her son he would kill the child.
She says that he was habitually intoxicated; that he neglected his business; ruined her business prospects; called her “liar and devil,” with profane adjectives, and threatened to knock her head off.
The Atlanta Constitution
September 2, 1910
Atlanta, Georgia

We tend to think that life was genteel in the past, but in reality divorce was often even more nasty than it is today because the plaintiff had to show a cause that the divorce be granted. This often required airing the dirty laundry in public, and sometimes that included mentions in the newspaper.

Many times you will see a more traditional court announcement in regard to the divorce, in which the hearing is mentioned, again, giving you a date to use when contacting the county court in charge of divorces.

Divorce Notice

Notices were often required as part of the proceeding. The Elyria Democrat, October 11, 1888, Elyria, Ohio.


Sometimes the notice gives you information about when the spouse in question left the home, as the above example shows. Other times you are left to wait until you can get the original documents from the divorce to learn what prompted it.

Summons to Appear at Divorce Proceeding

Sullivan Progress, March 5, 1870, Sullivan, Illinois.


There is one other announcement you might find in the newspapers that alludes to the ending of a marriage.

Often known as elopement announcements, they usually indicate that the wife has run off and that the husband is refusing to accept any further financial responsibility for her.

Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Newspaper 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.