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Finding Your Ancestors in Federal Court Records
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Finding Your Ancestors in Federal Court Records

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A presentation on Finding Ancestors in Federal Court Records, for Ohio Genealogical Society Hamilton County Chapter, and OGS Librarians' Seminar (2013)

A presentation on Finding Ancestors in Federal Court Records, for Ohio Genealogical Society Hamilton County Chapter, and OGS Librarians' Seminar (2013)

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  • 1. Finding Your Ancestors in Federal Court Records Pam Schaffner, MSLS
  • 2. Records of the Federal Courts are among the National Archives’ largest holdings ~ and yet some of the least used records Was Grandpa a bootlegger? © BETTMANN / CORBIS Did Grandma pay her taxes?
  • 3. What We Will Cover • History & Organization of the Federal Courts • The Courthouse • The Archives • Online Resources • Legal Citation • Remus v United States
  • 4. Constitutional Origins of the Federal Judiciary • The Constitutional Convention of 1787 • Ratification Debates • The Judiciary Act of 1789
  • 5. Federal Courts in 1789
  • 6. Circuit Riding Photo credit: Library of Congress
  • 7. Westward Expansion and the Courts • Number of States Increased • U.S. Territorial Possessions Grew • Travel Burden to Justices • New Circuits Created • Size of Supreme Court Increased
  • 8. Federal Courts in 1802
  • 9. Federal Courts in 1807
  • 10. Federal Courts in 1837
  • 11. Federal Courts in 1855
  • 12. Reorganizing the Federal Courts • Debate over proper role of federal judiciary in national life • Growing backlog of cases • Issues of power between states and federal government • Further tinkering
  • 13. Federal Courts in 1863
  • 14. Federal Courts in 1866
  • 15. 1891 Evarts Act • Shifted appellate caseload burden from Supreme Court to new courts of appeals • Made the federal district courts the primary trial courts • Created a new court – the Circuit Court of Appeals – one for each of the 9 Circuits • Provided a right of direct Supreme Court review
  • 16. From the Evarts Act to Today • 1929 ~ New 10th Circuit created out of 8th Circuit’s western states • 1948 ~ DC Circuit created • 1980 ~ 5th Circuit divided and 11th Circuit created • 1982 ~ Federal Circuit formed from the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and Court of Claims
  • 17. Federal Court Organization
  • 18. Two Parallel Systems of Courts
  • 19. Types of Cases • • • • • • • Law, Equity, and Civil Criminal Habeas Corpus Bankruptcy Naturalization Admiralty Fugitive Slave Records
  • 20. Federal Court in Cincinnati 1892 2013
  • 21. Inside the Federal Courthouse An Unknown Realm • • • • • • • • United States District Court Clerk United States Court of Appeals Clerk Judges’ Chambers Courtrooms Jury Assembly Room U.S. Probation and Pretrial Mediation Office Library
  • 22. Records in U.S. District Court Clerk’s Office • Court records – Accession # – Location # – Box # – Date it was shipped to Archives • Naturalization records – Back to the 1950’s – Card catalog index back to 1800’s Call (513) 564-7500
  • 23. Sixth Circuit Library for the U.S. Courts
  • 24. Publication of Court Decisions • No standard procedure • Most unreported • Nominative reports • Newspapers, journals , state reporters and legal digests © Bettmann/Corbis
  • 25. West Publishing Company
  • 26. The National Archives and Federal Records Centers http://www.archives.gov/
  • 27. Record Group 21 Most of the historical records of the U.S. district courts and U.S. circuit courts have been accessioned by NARA and are deposited in regional archives as part of Record Group 21. Unaccessioned historical records are located in the clerk’s office of the respective district court, or, in rare cases, at regional libraries and historical societies.
  • 28. Types of Cases ~ Recap • • • • • • • Law and Equity (Civil) Criminal Habeas Corpus Bankruptcy Naturalization Admiralty Fugitive Slave
  • 29. Cases Contain: • Original papers submitted by the parties • Transcripts of testimony • Exhibits introduced at trial
  • 30. Navigating the NARA Website
  • 31. Look What We Found !!
  • 32. Online Resources
  • 33. Cite That Case! 1. The name of the case 2. The volume number in the reporter series 3. The name of the reporter series (usually abbreviated) 4. The page on which the case starts 5. A parenthetical with year the case was decided
  • 34. Legal Citation U.S. v. Remus, 12 F. 2d 239 (1926) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Cornell Law School’s Online Guide to Legal Citation http://www.law.cornell.edu/citation/
  • 35. The Genealogist’s Way The Federal Reporter, Second Series, Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit Courts of Appeals and District Courts of the United States and the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, with key-number annotations, with table of cases in which rehearings have been granted or denied, Vol. 12 (St. Paul, Minnesota : West Publishing Co., 1926), 239, United States vs. Remus; hereinafter cited as U.S. v. Remus, U.S. F. 2d. 230 (1926). Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2d edition (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009), 740-742.
  • 36. George Remus in Federal Court • Apr. 15, 1922 ~ Federal Grand Jury indicts Remus and 13 co-defendants • May 5 ~ Trial #1 begins before U.S. District Judge John W. Peck • May 16 ~ Verdict of guilty in conspiracy to violate the Volstead Act. Internal Revenue counts dropped • Remus sentenced to 2 years in federal penitentiary and fined $10,000.
  • 37. Overheard in the Courtroom • “The very air seemed a little dryer after the jury announced its verdict. The way of the transgressor is hard, but the way of the thirsty citizen is harder.”
  • 38. Double Jeopardy? • May 17 ~ Trial #2 begins • May 19 ~ Judge Peck orders jury to acquit Remus • May 20 ~ Misdemeanor charges of maintaining a nuisance at Death Valley Farm • May 24 ~ Sentence of 1 yr in county jail to run concurrent with 2 year sentence • December ~ Appeals to Circuit Courts of Appeals begin. Conviction upheld 1925.
  • 39. ~ Final Thoughts ~ • Filson Historical Society, Louisville • GenealogyBank • National Institute of Genealogical Studies
  • 40. My Genealogy Blog
  • 41. Thanks ! © Pamela Schaffner