Court Records in Genealogy

Posted March 3, 2011 by Amanda | 2 Comments

While court records may be a little more difficult to research, they may yield some unique information you may not find anywhere else. Before you jump into these documents, you will first need to have an idea about what type of court records you are looking for and in what location. This is key to knowing which archives to search. Remember, county, state and federal cases are archived at different levels. Here are a few of the different types of court records that may prove most useful in your genealogical research:

Probate Records

These records are created to record the distribution of an individual’s estate after their death. You may find your ancestor’s will, list of heirs and a list of assets or estate inventories included in their probate files. These records can tell you a great deal of genealogical information, including your deceased ancestors’ full name, date and location of death, marital status, and the names of their spouse(s) and children. Sometimes estate disputes may last for many years, so it’s possible that you will also find the names of grandchildren and great grandchildren of the deceased added to the case.

Adoptions / Guardianships

Since many of these documents are sealed, you may have to petition the court to view these documents. If you are able to obtain these records, you will be able to find the names of birth parents, name of the adopted child or children and the names of the adoptive parents. You may also want to try researching guardian ship records, which will tell you the names of any children, the names of the biological parents and the name and relation of the petitioner filing for guardianship.


Divorce records will list the name of both spouses (possibly even the wife’s maiden name) and possibly their date of birth. It will also include the date and location of the marriage and grounds for divorce. The names and ages of the couple’s children may also be included as well as the couples previous places of residence.

Civil and Criminal Cases

You may also find some interesting information in any civil or criminal cases your ancestors may have been involved in. These case files may include testimonies from your ancestor, correspondence, depositions and other documents relevant to the case that could provide you with clues to further your genealogical research.

How to obtain these records

Contact the actual court house to see if they have the records in their archives. Depending on the type of case, you can also research the archives of state and federal court houses. You can also research microfilm collections of court records in libraries. You might find some older records predating the American Revolution transcribed and published in library catalogs as well.

Once you have found this information, upload your documents to Geni!

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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