- Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 17:40
The court records held by the Westchester County Archives come in a variety of formats, from several different courts, and range in date from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. Obtaining information from these records can sometimes be as challenging as teasing out the details of a case from a reluctant witness even under questioning by a skilled litigator. This guide is designed to help researchers navigate through these holdings to find those most relevant to their research interests.
Note to genealogists
Those looking to use court records for genealogical purposes are strongly cautioned that there is often very little evidence in court records – particularly the individual papers described below – to link particular names to locations or to make family connections.
View sample court records to get a better understanding of what some of these records look like and the information they can and cannot provide about an individual or a court case.
Record Types Available
There are five main categories of court records held by the Westchester County Archives:
- Individual papers organized by type of document
- Minute books
- Case files
- Indexes to case files
- Case registers
Although there is some overlap between these records and the case files, for the most part the individual papers cover the late 18th to mid 19th century (with some gaps) while the case files cover the mid 19th century to approximately 1910. The individual papers are from eight separate courts:
- Court of Common Pleas (which represents the bulk of the individual court papers)
- Circuit Court
- County Court
- Court of General Sessions
- Court of Special Sessions
- Justice Court
- Court of Oyer and Terminer
- Supreme Court
The Archives’ online index of Court Records provides a guide to the personal names found in these papers, as well as in the Liquor Licenses (Series 212), Tavern Recognizances (Series 226), and Bastardy Proceedings (Series 217).
Because these records were filed by type of record (i.e., judgments, affidavits, pleas, true bills, bail pieces, etc.) it is very difficult to piece together the flow of a case from start to finish without first tracking down each individual record filed for it. Given the frequency with which some names reoccur within the Court Records index, some extensive detective work may be necessary to pick out the right documents for a single case. The Archives hopes to improve its Court Records index in the future to assist in this process. It must also be noted that many of the individual record types in this group are highly formulaic and standardized (including some pre-printed forms), rarely offering much detail about a case on their own. True Bills, Judgments and Appeals are the most likely to offer case specifics.
For additional information on the types of records filed in early court cases, as well as the courts themselves, reading "Duely and Constantly Kept" - a history of the New York Supreme Court, 1681-1847, produced by the New York State Court of Appeals and the New York State Archives and Records Administration - is highly recommended. "Duely and Constantly Kept" may be read online at the web site of the Historical Society of the Courts of New York State. Please note that this is a very large file (21 MB) and may take some time to download.
Recorded minutes are available for five separate courts:
- Court of Common Pleas, 1710-1846 (Series 9)
- Court of Sessions, 1684-1895 (Series 43)
- Court of Oyer and Terminer, 1790-1873, 1889-1890 (gaps) (Series 247)
- County Court, 1853-1911 (Series 342)
- Supreme Court, 1869-1916 (bulk 1869-1911) (Series 344)
These records cover both civil (Court of Common Pleas) and criminal (Court of Sessions and Oyer and Terminer) courts. [The County and Supreme Courts have both civil and criminal divisions.] They show when cases were heard by the courts, some brief details (i.e., what the charge was in criminal matters or a succinct summary description for civil cases), listings of jurors, and the outcome of the case. However, they rarely include individual testimony. The minutes are arranged chronologically in the books, but are not indexed, except for the very latest of the County and Supreme Court minutes.
Case Files and Case Indexes
The Archives holds over 700 cubic feet of Supreme Court Case Files (Series 297), Special Proceeding Case Files (Series 349), Money and Equity Judgments (Series 345), and County Court Case Files (Series 348). These records are organized with all the court filings related to an individual case stored together. In order to review materials for a particular case, the Case Indexes should first be consulted to obtain the case year and case number. Then the individual case file can be requested.
Please contact the Archives for additional information regarding how to use the Case Indexes and Case Files.
The case registers list out the individual documents filed for each court case. They are available for County Court cases, 1847-1911 (Series 337), Special Proceedings, 1918-1911 (bulk 1847-1911) (Series 336) and Supreme Court cases, 1847-1911 (Series 327). For the most part, the Archives holds the case files listed in these registers.