Delaware Court Records
Various Delaware courts kept records of genealogical value. Below is a list of the courts with the approximate dates they existed.
1655-1682: Delaware was under Dutch control from 1655 to 1664 and then under New York from 1664 to 1682. These court records have been published in volume 12 of Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, (Albany, New York: The Argus Co., 1877. FHL book 974.7 H2d; volume 12 is on film 824389 item 2). The index is at the end of volume 13 (FHL film 824390). The records for 1648-1682 have been published in: Gehring, Charles T. Delaware Papers. Two Volumes. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1977-1981. (FHL book 974.7 N2d.) Volume 1 has records 1664-1682; Volume 2 has records for 1648-1664.
1670's: Magistrates Courts were held by the King's authority.
1701-1831: Courts of Common Pleas were established in each county to hear minor civil suits, minor criminal cases, appeals from lesser courts, adoptions, and terminations of parental rights. Their powers were given to the superior court in 1831. Before 1792, the courts of common pleas also handled those matters now handled by the chancery courts.
1655-present: Levy Court. This court is a county administrative unit that keeps records of schools, petitions, tavern licenses, road accounts, probates, and taxes.
1683-present: Orphans' Courts have county-wide jurisdiction over property rights, estates of minors, guardianships, and adoptions.
1792-present: Chancery Courts are county-wide courts with jurisdiction over equity matters, where sufficient remedy cannot be had by common law or statute before any other court.
1676-present: Court of General Quarter Sessions. These records include apprenticeship indentures and petitions for roads and taverns. This court tries all criminal cases except capital crimes.
1746-present: Court of Oyer and Terminer. This criminal court often hears capital crimes.
1664-present: Justice of the Peace. These records include minor civil cases.
1794-1898: High Court of Errors and Appeals. This was an appeals court for the superior courts.
1790-present: U.S. Circuit and District Courts. They handle naturalizations, civil cases, and criminal cases.
1726-1831;1908-present: Supreme Court. The duties were transferred to the superior courts after 1831. All court records (except those from the last three years are at the Delaware Public Archives
1831-present: Superior Courts replaced courts of common pleas. They are county courts with jurisdiction over major criminal and civil cases. Naturalization records are included.
The offices of clerk of the peace and prothonotary date from 1642. The clerk of the peace was clerk of the levy court and the court of general quarter sessions. The prothonotary was clerk of the court of common pleas and the superior court.
The Delaware Public Archives has most of the original court records, including the courts of general quarter sessions, Oyer and Terminer, justice of the peace, and common pleas, as well as superior court and supreme court records.
A few of the early court records have been published and are available at the Family History Library. For published court records and indexes look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under DELAWARE, [COUNTY] - COURT RECORDS.
Two useful inventories including court records are:
- Mattern and Hancock. A Preliminary Inventory of the Older Records in the Delaware Archives.
- Historical Records Survey (Delaware). Inventory of the County Archives of Delaware, number 1, New Castle County.
Both are described in the "Archives and Libraries" section.