Genealogists and family historians frequently overlook Court records. Finding aids are rare, making the task extremely time consuming. The search can be streamlined when researchers make use of law libraries. Unfortunately, law libraries don’t always provide a warm and fuzzy feeling. As a consequence it is important to become familiar with some of the types of books that will lead users to court records. Family disputes generally provide wonderful genealogical data.
Law libraries contain a large variety of resources including federal code and acts of Congress; state codes and session laws; case reporters; digests; and legal periodicals and indexes. It is common for the library to emphasis a particular geographical region and their collection will not contain every volume for every state. Some state archives will also have state code, digests, and reports for that particular location.
Work in law libraries is enhanced when one has access to any of the following Online databases: WestlawPro, LexisNexis, and HeinOnline.
I’ve had the good fortune of taking the Government Documents class at the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. Part of our studies included exercises to help us become acquainted with the Lucille Stewart Beeson Law Library. While browsing through the Reports of Cases in Law and Equity Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia, Atlanta, March Term: Milledgeville and Athens, May Terms, Savannah and Part of the Decisions at Macon, June Terms, 1858 [Columbus Georgia: 1859], I finally found the evidence I needed to demonstrate that Aaron Woodward was the father of a daughter, Sarah (“Collie”). I had hypothesized that Sarah was his daughter when I located her marriage record to Thomas McClendon in Jackson County, Georgia, on 4 April 1819 [Jackson County, Georgia, Marriages, 1805–1861, p. 120]. Aaron was residing in Jackson County at the time and was the only logical male to have been her father, but I’d not been able to locate any record showing a connection between the two.
In the summary of the court case heard by the Supreme Court of Georgia (appellate court) demonstrated that the plaintiff wished to have the decision of a lower court (Butts County Equity Court) overturned. The Plaintiffs were Thomas McLendon, his wife and others, heirs and distributes of Aaron Woodward, deceased, late of Butts County. The Defendants were William J Woodward, administrator of said deceased, and Newdigate H. Woodward, Robert Woodward, and Aaron Woodward, sons and heirs at law of intestate. The summary of the case as it appears in the Reports of Cases in Law and Equity is available in PDF form on the Woodwards WeSearch website.
As with any published source, researchers should always try to get as close to the original record as possible. In this instance the actual case files were located at the Georgia Archives in Supreme Court Cases, Pre-1917. The case, McLendon vs. Woodward consisted of 105 folios
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