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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. Admiralty Courts

Admiralty is the name of a jurisdiction which takes cognizance of suits or actions which arise in consequence of acts done upon or relating to the sea-the court having jurisdiction over question of maritime law. The U.S. admiralty courts were established by an act of 24 September 1789.

Although originally limited to the coverage of the American seacoast and to the mouths of rivers, the authority of Admiralty Courts became quite diverse. Admiralty and maritime jurisdiction included all seizures under laws of imposts, navigation or trade of the United States, where the seizures are made on waters navigable from the sea, by vessels of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts, as well as upon the high seas. Legal records pertaining to people that lived along the shoreline of any navigable waterway of the United States, including lakes, rivers, and canals, are likely to be found in admiralty courts.[1]

The courts, also, had civil and criminal jurisdiction over merchants who dealt with mariners, owners of ships, and all persons having any relation to maritime transactions and such incidents including:

  • Seamen’s wages Ÿ
  • Charter parties
  • Ÿ Partnership Ÿ
  • Salvage Ÿ
  • Claims for injuries to property or persons


  1. Laura Szucs Pfeiffer, Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Place (Salt Lake City:, 2000),3.


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 

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