Saturday, April 11, 2015

Genealogy Research via the State Judicial System

From Circuit Courts to State Supreme Courts
More than often researchers stop short of finding the full story. But five (5) cases were solved 1st quarter 2015 by scouring state court cases and appeals. 

A Reasonably Exhaustive Search
At a3Genealogy, we usually assume that for every court case, there was probably an appeal. Why? Because there’s a 100% chance that half of the parties (party) represented by someone or some company did not like the result of a lower court.  So the research is not over until the possibility of an appeals court case has been eliminated.

5 Answers via Court Cases
All court cases seem to give us at least some genealogical, social, or family history, but our favorites are the Appeals Court Cases.  Some researchers question if the extra ferreting is worth it, but we profess that it almost always has a high return on (time/money) investment – what we call a “Return on Genealogical Investment” (ROGI©).

Here are recent brickwalls annihilated using court records dating from a 1797 in Delaware to a more recent 19th century Indiana death:
  1. A wrongful death (often caused by company/railroad neglect), providing a death date and details of the incident.
  2. Names of a family unit that can be used to unscramble common names.
  3. Immigration, settlement and estate details most often come to the forefront when discussing land and property cases.
  4. Unearthing your colonial ancestors.
  5. Slave research holes and slave holder names (and sometimes slave parent names), manumission dates, etc.  The Delaware Reports that reviewed cases decided through appeals proffer answers (and questions) of the fate of a few slaves.
Don’t Overlook the Following
Although most court records and cases can be located in the local courts, state archives or state historical societies, you will want to expand your court case search to the following:
·         Google Search. A simple google search may yield answers to your ancestors' (or his heirs') court cases.  We were able to find answers using the Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Judicature of the State of Indiana, for details of a railroad accidental death. This case also provided proof of (sibling) orphans, and grandparents’ names, taking our research back one more generation.  For this search we gathered hints, but not details, from the newspaper: The Indianapolis Journal.
·         National Archives, County Record Group 21 (RG21). Records of District Courts of the United States: If the researcher is looking for a trial court for federal jurisdiction, begin your search with RG21 (Record Group).  Remember these records are housed by regional National Archives. Here is an idea of what can be found at the National Archives at Atlanta. These records may date as early as 1790 as in the case with Delaware 1790-1988.

Kathleen Brandt

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