court record, court record research, genealogy

Learning about family trees through court records

We came across this article, “Learning about family trees through court records,” published in The Daily Nebraskan. It recounts the local Genealogy Over Lunch group’s discussion of utilizing court records for family history research. We have posted several pieces on this blog about the importance of visiting the courthouse in person, as well as the purpose of related chancery records, which can be a fantastic resource.

This recounting of the local genealogy group offers a local narrative of court record’s utility, which we appreciate and would like to share. Please note that the hyperlinks have been added below to assist our readers in learning more about the topic mentioned.

Learning about family trees through court records:

A paper history can be used to track down family ties, even if that paper trail winds through the courts. On March 18 the Genealogy Over Lunch group discussed how ancestral court records could be used to track down a person’s family history. The session was led by Joan Barnes, community engagement librarian, and Tom McFarland, staff development program officer.

Barnes started off the event with a discussion on one of her uncles, a half-Indian who worked as a scout and translator at Fort Beaufort in the 1880s. In summer of 1885, Barnes’ uncle was shot and killed by a fellow officer. While the officer was convicted, he later appealed the court and was found not guilty.

Barnes said she was amazed the court had record on her uncle’s murder, with detailed accounts of each witness’s testimony and deep examination of the crime scene.

“It’s an opportunity for people who are interested in genealogy and family history to get together and talk about different topics,” Barnes said. “Sometimes we help each other break through a mystery, or show off resources that others may not know about.”

McFarland said ancestors can be found in legal documents or court cases concerning written wills. Other court cases may label the defendant or plaintiff’s health at time of the incident, which may help someone find a family history of disease that would have otherwise remained unknown.

While the session focused mainly on the histories of those speaking at the event, audience members were also encouraged to share their own family history as well. If any confusion about research was reached, another participant might give out helpful hints where to look when searching for family histories.

The group discussed many different ways of discovering one’s family history, including court records, Love Library’s digital archive, DNA and various websites such as ancestry.com, the HathiTrust Digital Library and Google Books.

“We, of course, being an academic library, have a lot of historical records and information,” McFarland said. “For instance, one of the things that Jonesy used was the American fur trade records that we had.”

McFarland said he once did a presentation involving a revolutionary soldier, who was not well-known, and was able to find a variety of different sources in the collections.

The Genealogy Over Lunch group meets the third Thursday of each month at Love Library. The library will celebrate Genealogy Day on May 18.

Image credit: Court Record Fragment, 1804, via Library of Congress.

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