Friday, August 25, 2006

Court Records for Familly History

Court records, property records, and vital records are considered primary records and are a good source of information about our ancestors. There are many different kinds of court and vital records. We all know how important vital records are, well court records and land records are just as important as vital records. Wouldn't you like to know what kind of property your ancestors owned? How about a will for that ancestor you've been looking for? Did your ancestor sue anyone? Was there someone who sued him? These are all questions that can be answered by court and land records.

Before we can search the court and land records we need to know where your ancestor was born, where he lived, and where he died. To get this type of information we start with the census. Preferrably start with a census that has a soundex index, not all censuses are indexed. The 1880 census is online at the Family Search site. has most if not all of the censuses online, but you need to be a member to use their records. If you can afford to do this it's well worth it. Start with the location you know farthest back in time. In other words, if you know where your grandfather was born, but don't know where his parents were born,that would be the first location you would start searching for records.

Now, if the court record was historically important, you'll find much more information on it than if the proceedings were a common everyday occurance law suit. As an example lets take the story of a woman who was widowed in the 9/11 attack. I'm sure you've heard about the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund which was created for those who lost loved ones in the attack. She hired a lawyer to help her make her claim. The way the fund was set up lawyers weren't supposed to charge the families of the victims for their help, or at least not gouge them. The lawyer she hired filed a suit in a federal court for $2M to cover his fees for representing her. She has hired Simmons Jannace & Stagg to defend her against the lawsuit. Her lawyers argued the Compensation Fund didn't give the federal court jurisdiction over a dispute between the lawyer and his client and the federal court agreed to abstain until if and when the state court finished its investigation into the lawyer's fees. This is a benchmark case because the federal court abstained from exercising their jurisdiction while the state court tried their case. I have a feeling that alot of papers and articles are going to be written about this case before its conclusion. Which will be good for genealogists who come along later looking for information about their relatives.

I have a colleague that reasearches each person in her line extensively and has umpteen spiral binders, not the little ones, either, but the big 2" to 3 " binders packed with information on the individuals she has researched. Those binders are a personal history all by themselves. Anything she can find with the ancestor's name on it she copies and puts in a sheet protector
to place in her binder for that family. Wouldn't it be something to come accross a binder like that with your greatgrandparents information?

Legal papers are primary source materials. Even legal documents can have errors, but if you find the same information in several different places, you can be pretty sure you have the right information, unless they all copied from the incorrect original.

Questions and comments are very welcome. Hope this helps you in your search for your ancestors.

Dale L. Edwards

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