Most people dread having to show up in court. Not so if you’re talking about genealogy research. It’s a rare ancestor who didn’t generate some kind of court record — by writing wills, transferring property, serving on juries, testifying in court, applying for naturalization, committing crimes, filing lawsuits (or getting sued) or leaving an estate at death.
Some of the following Web sites provide scanned or transcribed court documents. You’ll also want to search on your ancestral county in the Family History Library catalog <www.familysearch.org> to see whether any records are on microfilm. If so, rent them through a local branch Family History Center.
Other resources index wills or legal cases. If you find your ancestor in an index — or you know about when his estate was probated or his criminal case was prosecuted — write the court clerk to request copies of documents. For the most part, though, courthouse research involves traveling to your ancestral county or voyaging to the state archives and scrounging around in a dusty file room for the records you need. When planning your trip, consult the how-to Web sites and books we recommend here — and call ahead to check on record availability, office closures and access restrictions.
• Illinois Trails: Earliest County Courthouse Records
<www.iltrails.org/kimco.html>: Consult this chart to learn the dates various record types were available in Illinois counties.
• County Courthouse Book, 2nd edition, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (Genealogical Publishing Co., $21)
• Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures by Christine Rose (Rose Family Association, $21.98)
• Criminal Justice in Colonial America, 1606-1660 by Bradley Chapin (University of Georgia Press
• A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, 3 volumes, by Charles William Manwaring (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
• Early Court Records of Pulaski County, Georgia by Lee G. Barrow (Southern Historical Press)
• English Estates of American Settlers: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1800-1858 by Peter Wilson Coldham (Clearfield Co.)
• Estate Inventories: How to Use Them by Kenneth L. Smith (Masthof Press)
• The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists edited by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack and Erin Nevius (Family Tree Books)
• Find Public Records Fast, 4th edition, edited by Michael L. Sankey and Peter J. Weber (Facts on Demand Press)
• How to Use Chancery Court Records in Tracing Your Ancestry by Donald Ray Barnes (Connecticut Society of Genealogists)
• Inventory of the County Archives of West Virginia, no. 16, Hardy County by the West Virginia Historical Records Survey (Work Projects Administration, out of print):You may find a similar Work Projects Administration — first known as the Works Progress Administration — survey of your county’s records. Ask the local historical society or search the Family History Library online catalog <www.familysearch.org>. (Select Author Search, then type work projects administration or works progress administration as the author name.)
• Over the Mountain Men: Their Early Court Records in Southwest Virginia by Anne Lowry Worrell (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
• Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills, 5th edition, by Jeremy Gibson (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
• Red Book, 3rd edition, edited by Alice Eichholz (Ancestry)
• Family History Library
35 N. West Temple St., Salt Lake City, UT 84150, (800) 346-6044, <www.familysearch.org>: To find a branch Family History Center near you, click the Library tab, then Family History Centers.
• National Association of Counties