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31 July 2014

Court Fights Over Estates

Quite a few genealogists overlook court records. Doing so can limit your research and create artificial brick walls. Testimony and depositions can contain a variety of information, sometimes unexpected and sometimes with indirect clues. Don't overlook these records when searching for your ancestor.

And look for cases involving siblings and other relatives of your ancestor--he could be mentioned in a case even if he was not an active participant.


  1. Good point. Also the newspaper reports will often reveal some of the more salacious details.

  2. Can't agree more with Ros Burke. In searching for news of one of my ancestor's court cases (embezzlement of city funds while working as a court clerk) I found reference to a hung jury in his first trial. This was a surprise because I'd already gotten copies of the court record and transcript from the county courthouse which recorded his conviction for embezzlement, and there was nothing to indicate there had been a previous trial.

    The newspaper that carried the first report was from a very small town about 50 miles from the city where both trials had been held. There is a slight chance my ancestor was framed for embezzlement - he had a large number of character witnesses but no father, a dependent mother and kid sister, and no political power or money. He was only 24 when charged and the charge against him sprang into being while he was away on his annual vacation fishing and unable to know anything about it until he returned. The other people with access to the same city funds he was accused of stealing were all older and politically connected or ambitious. Altogether it raised the question of whether the record of his first trial was deliberately removed back in 1916 to make it appear his guilt was easier to establish. Newspaper searches are among my favorites just for reasons like this.