If a library has a genealogical collection, it’s a good bet that court records can be found there. However, those records are completely different from the records that are housed in case reporters from decisions made in appellate court. Those records can normally be found in law libraries.
Court records are created at the time of a trial, but they aren’t always published immediately. In fact, it may be years before a genealogical publisher chooses to publish them. It’s more likely that you will come across docket books, minutes or transcripts from certain cases. Those records may be published by genealogical societies, individuals or publishing companies.
Published trial court records can be very useful in genealogical research, even though some entire case files are never actually published. It may be impossible to locate word-for-word court transcripts, but there are often abstracts, or summaries, of the court proceedings.
If you are planning to examine abstract court records, you should know that they are limited in their helpfulness. Abstracts are never as accurate as the original court records are. However, abstracts can often lead to information that can be used to locate original records, even unpublished records. Abstract records contain indexes which can help the researcher to find information on the person of interest.
Many original court records are not in the best shape. They could have many issues, including: Lost pages, Crumbling Pages, Fading Pages and Torn Pages
That’s why it can be helpful to get the assistance of someone with a legal and editing background to sift through the records. Printed transcripts and abstracts, on the other hand, have already been edited, restored and somewhat organized. Therefore, they can be quite useful in genealogical research. Many genealogical libraries house entire multi-volume collections printed transcripts, abstracts and other records from various courts.
In recent years, many court records, abstracts and excerpts have been printed. In fact, some states publish new records so often that researchers must keep checking to see what new records have been released. Even though there has been a recent spike in record publication, many court records are still not published, but new genealogical records are being published almost all the time.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that court records don’t just contain information on those accused of crimes. Jurors, witnesses and other participants may be referred to in the records. So, there is a good chance of finding the ancestor in question in court records, if you can find records from the appropriate place and time.