Court Records Before 1776
Court Records often contain helpful information. In Maryland before 1776, information on ancestors may be found in any one of the following types of courts:
Every Royal Governor was commissioned a Vice Admiral and Admiralty Courts appear to have sat on each shore. Following the restoration of the Proprietary government, no Admiralty Court sat in Maryland until a Vice Admiral was commissioned in 1756. The court's jurisdiction included contracts, accounts, wages, treason, piracy, felonies, fugitives, mayhem, and bottomry (cases in which a shipowner put the ship up as security for a loan). The Constitution of 1776 established an Admiralty Court to try capture and seizures made and brought into Maryland ports. The court functioned until 1789, when the U.S. Constitution assigned admiralty jurisdiction to the federal courts. The Archives collection consists of Court Papers MSA S116 and Minutes MSA S117 of the Admiralty Court. There is an electronic index to the Court Papers MSA S1471. A transcription of Admiralty Court Minutes is available as part of our Special Collections.
Records are sometimes described as Dockets, Judgments, Minutes, Proceedings, or Rough Minutes. These records may contain information on bastardy cases, guardianship cases, distributions of estate to minors, children bound out as apprentices, petitions to straighten roads, judging the ages of servants, punishment meted out to runaway servants, and many other court actions shedding light on the daily deeds and misdeeds of early inhabitants. Depending on the county, the Archives has many of these court records in the Original format or on Microfilm. The Anne Arundel County Judgments from 1703 to 1794 have been indexed on cards, Index 69 MSA S1441.
Levy Lists or Levy Courts
These were maintained by various county courts, and were records of expenditures by the government, made to individuals for services performed -- taking care of orphan children or indigent elderly, for bringing in so many squirrels' heads, for working on roads, and so forth. It is one of the few types of records where the names of women may expect to be found. Again, depending on the county, the Archives may have levy papers in the Original format or on Microfilm.
The Provincial Court was originally called the County Court. The Provincial Court was modeled after the English county courts. The name change probably occurred sometime between 1640 and 1642, when St. Mary's and Kent counties were created, each with a county court. The Provincial Court had concurrent jurisdiction with the county courts in most matters, served as an appellate court to the county courts, and had original jurisdiction in criminal cases involving life or member and in civil cases with value above a given sum or poundage of tobacco, which varied throughout the court's history. The Provincial Court also heard chancery, testamentary, and guardianship cases until the Chancery and Prerogative Courts were established and guardianship matters were transferred to the county courts. In addition, the Provincial Court had concurrent jurisdiction with the county courts in recording conveyances of land, which was compulsory after 1663. For more information on Provincial Court indices, please see our Checklist of Indices.
In 1670 the Prerogative Court was formally established when Lord Baltimore gave the secretary full power "to hear, sentence, and declare all matters touching wills, administrations, and inventories." On May 19, 1671, the term "Prerogative Court" was first used in the records of the court. For more on the records of this court see the page on Probate Records.
The Chancery Court recorded copies of documents filed in cases including bills of complaint, petitions, answers, testimony, trustees reports, exhibits, and plats. Many, but by no means all, of these cases involved disputes over settlement of estates. friends and neighbors often made depositions about the contesting parties. For more information on Chancery Court indices, please see our Checklist of Indices.
Maryland Courts after 1776
The Court of Appeals of Maryland records and Briefs Series. Inventory of Records and Briefs Volumes at the Court of Appeals, Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building, 361 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, Maryland 21401.
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