Most states have a couple of different general jurisdiction trial courts. Each state also tends to have a similar basic court structure. However, the exact functions of the courts within each state can vary quite a bit. Not only that, but some states do have more special jurisdiction and trial courts than others.
In order to understand the state court records systems, you need to first understand that each state court system is divided into either districts or judicial circuits. Each of those district or circuit courts covers a certain area, which could include a single county or multiple counties. The divisions were determined based on the population in any given area at the time that the divisions were determined. There are general trial courts in each district or circuit, but they go by different names in various states.
Each state’s court system also includes county courts. The courts in most counties are limited jurisdiction courts. It’s also important to note that some county courts served legislative and administrative functions, not just judicial functions. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, courts were particularly involved in legislative and administrative duties. They gave out licenses to ministers and midwives. They also oversaw ferries, bridges and road construction and upkeep. They also collected taxes and appointed officers to the militia. So, many different residents of the given area were mentioned in court documents for one reason or another.
Trial courts are known by many names, including: Circuit Court, County Court and District Court
In any case, they are almost always associated with a specific county. An example of this is if a case was being tried in Jefferson county by the state court. In such a case, the court in question might be known as the Circuit Court of Jefferson County or for Jefferson County. That’s why most trial court records are widely classified as being county court records. The result is that genealogical researchers will find that state records are not always known as state records. Sometimes they are listed as being records of a county court.
In cases where courts have limited jurisdiction, a lot of states will authorize general jurisdiction courts to oversee some court proceedings. In most cases, there is an entirely new trial when a general court appeal is made. Whereas, if the appeal was made to a state supreme court, there would be no new trial requested. The supreme court would just look at the records from the first trial to see if any errors were made during the proceedings.
A lot of genealogical libraries house indexes and records from state courts. In fact, some of those libraries have old microfiche or microfilm dockets, orders, minutes and indexes from local court proceedings.