Court records are a broad category of records based on court proceedings. They might include minutes, transcripts and dockets. Dockets, minutes and general records are all completely different things, but they can each provide a lot of useful genealogical information.
The docket is basically a list of which cases were heard by a particular court. You can think of it as a calendar of court events, which includes case file numbers and names of the parties involved in the case. The docket may also include dates, a list of documents relating to the case at hand and a list of any important actions taken by the court during the hearing of the case. Court dockets are usually organized by chronology, not in alphabetical order. Another way to think of a docket is that it is a table of contents for a given court case.
Minutes are generally notes taken by a court clerk during the trial. They are brief accounts of important events, which may include a summary of actions and generally includes names of the parties involved. Like dockets, minutes are organized in chronological order. Many local court proceedings have published minutes, which come in handy for genealogical researchers.
Court records do often contain minutes, but they also contain many other bits of information. For example, they could contain depositions, petitions, written evidence and correspondence. The court record will also contain the rulings, judgments, orders and decrees of the court. Records relating to citizenship, re-recording deeds and appointing guardians cannot be found in different court records.
There is a great amount of variation between the courts. So, it should come as no surprise that there is also a great amount of variation between court records. Sometimes minutes are kept in their own books. Other times they are kept as part of a docket book or in some other way. Some documents are kept in bundles, packets or folders of loose paperwork, if they can’t be somehow incorporated into the main court records. Those folders and packets can often be difficult to track down, since they may be in storage. That’s why many genealogical researchers must settle for the information that can be found in docket and minute books.
Some courts are required to keep records of all of their proceedings and cases. These are called courts of record. There are also courts not of record, which may keep records, but are not required by law to do so. Courts of record are more likely to have permanent public records on file, obviously. However, since many courts were courts not of record years ago and some still are, the records of certain events simply no longer exist.