How to Use English Court Records
Court records are official documents concerning civil or ecclesiastical matters. Various types of courts exist in England to handle judicial matters. They include:
- National government courts
- County government courts
- Manorial courts
Most court records identify individuals named in court cases as:
- Defendant. An individual or institution being charged with a crime or being sued by another individual or institution.
- Plaintiff. The individual who initiates a lawsuit. Also called the accuser.
- Juror. An individual who sits on a jury in a court of law.
- Witness. An individual who sees an event happen.
Court records usually do not include birth, marriage, or death information but will provide other valuable information such as family relationships and places of residence. Most researchers use court records after they have investigated other records. Court records are found on both country and county levels. You need to determine which court would have dealt with legal matters in your ancestor's place of residence.
What You Are Looking For
When you use these records, you are looking for court documents which may provide the following details about the lives of your ancestors:
- Physical descriptions
- Family relationships
- Events in their lives
Learn about the courts
For more information about the records of specific courts, see The National Archives leaflets.
Chancery Court Records
'Exchequer Court' Records
King’s Bench Court Records
Records of the Court of Request
Records of the Star Chamber
Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries
Assize Court Records
Manorial Court Records
The National Archives does not hold county Quarter Sessions records and therefore does not publish any leaflets about them. Quarter Sessions records are held by county record offices and other county repositories.
Determine which court to search
Ask yourself questions, such as the following, to determine which court level to search.
- Did my ancestor own property?
- Was my ancestor a merchant or craftsman?
- Was my ancestor poor?
- Was my ancestor known to have been in trouble with the law?
The answers to these and other questions will help you determine which courts might have records of your ancestor. However, whatever the circumstances of your ancestor's life, you should start on the county or local court level and move up to the national court level.