I am most definitely a bibliophile and I love discovering new-t-me gems, especially when they relate to genealogy.
Diane Rapaport’s 470 page book New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians is one that every serious New England researcher should have on their reference bookshelf.
Although New England records are often plentiful back to the days of the Mayflower, official government records were kept here, there and everywhere and often at the town level, unlike many other states that held records at the county level.
A number of different types of courts were established in New England and locating original records today isn’t always the easiest task.
That’s why Rapaport’s book is so handy.
Table of Contents
Part I: Understanding the Basics
Chapter 1 American Legal System
Chapter 2 New England Courts
Chapter 3 Types of Court records
Chapter 4 Where to Look for Court Records
Part II: Getting Specific, State by State
Chapter 5 Finding and Using the Resources in Part II
Chapter 6 Connecticut State Courts
Chapter 7 Maine State Courts
Chapter 8 Massachusetts State Courts
Chapter 9 New Hampshire State Courts
Chapter 10 Rhode Island State Courts
Chapter 11 Vermont State Courts
Chapter 12 Federal Courts in New England
Part III: Sampling the Sources
Chapter 13 Indexes to Court Records: People of Color in Colonial Rhode Island
Chapter 14 Computer Database: Slander in Nineteenth-Century Maine
Chapter 15 Federal Court Records: Bankruptcy in Post-Civil War Vermont
Chapter 16 Justice of the Peace Courts: Local Justice in Cornwall, Connecticut
Chapter 17 Law Library Resources: Will Context in Twentieth-Century New Hampshire
Chapter 18 Old-Fashioned Research: Scandal in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts
Archives and Other Repositories
Although this book was published in 2006, very little of it is outdated. In fact, if CD-ROMS weren’t mentioned as auxiliary resources and outdated websites weren’t in the book, it isn’t likely that most people would be able to guess the publication date.
However, internet resources are but a minimal piece of information in this book as the author keeps a focus on the different types of court records and repositories where records are housed today.
Parts I and III are required reading to “get the lay of the land.” Part II reading will probably be limited to those states in which you have a need to research in historical court records. In my case, I have direct line ancestors in all six New England states, so I’ll be checking out the information in all the chapters in Part II.
The record samples shared in Part III made for interesting reading just as glimpses into the historical past.
The 19-page glossary covered basic legal terms, plus several unfamiliar to me, like mittimus, which is a court order directing the sheriff to jail a person.
The Recommended Reading list is a mixture of heavy-duty law readings and some lighter genealogical reading, separated into categories:
American Courts and Law
Bankruptcy and Insolvency
Colonial Courts and Law
My personal interest isn’t in the how and why of the law, but rather in where to find court records in places of interest.
Because of the detailed information about where to find these records, this book is a valuable resource for me with my deep early colonial New England families.
I’m forever looking up court records in my research; if you aren’t, too, you should be because you’re missing out on lots of great details about the lives of our ancestors. Americans have always been a litigious lot and they took their complaints to the courts.
New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians by Diane Rapaport was published by Quill Pen Press (founded by Rapaport) in 2006. It can be ordered today online at Amazon, new for $29.95. I have to be honest and say I picked up a used copy, which is like new, also at everyone’s favorite online website for less than half that price.
I highly recommend that you add this book to your home library!