Acknowledgements, Preface, Introduction and Guide to Usage
This guide is a tribute to Tracy B. Grimm, former Albany County
archivist. Tracy tried unsuccessfully to convince intern after intern to
write a finding aid to Albany County court records because she understood
the importance of making these valuable records more accessible
to the public. She was finally successful when she convinced me to
complete this project in the fall and spring of 1992-1993.
Tracy proved to be of invaluable support, graciously answering my
endless barrage of questions and providing the many suggestions which
gave this guide its final form.
Many others were of great assistance. Especially helpful
was James Folts of the New York State Archives whose broad knowledge
of New York State court history saved me from embarrassing errors.
He also provided may fine suggestions on the style and format of this
guide. Many thanks to Charles Gehring, head of the New Netherlands
Project, who answered questions concerning the early Dutch court
records. Thanks also to Lynda A. Hebert, the Hall of Records'
Data Entry Supervisor, whose desk top publishing skills provided
the polished, professional appearance of this guide.
On a more personal note, I would like to thank my cousin Bonnie Weir,
an attorney; and my friend Neil Dignon, a law student, for their clear,
simple explanations of complicated legal terms and procedures.
I Would like to thank all those who proofread the guide and made
helpful suggestions on improving it: the Honorable Thomas Clingan,
Albany County Clerk; Mary Wallen, Executive Director of the
Hall of Records; and Virginia Farinacci, the current
Albany County Archivist. Finally, I would like to thank my co-workers
at the Hall of Records who all helped in many ways.
This guide, by David Lowry, is another of a series of publications by
the Albany County Hall of Records intended to better inform the
public of the holdings and availability of documents here at the Hall.
The author has done an exceptional job of extensively reviewing the
court records, explaining the function of each court, and summarizing
the time periods covered by each series.
These records are of interest beyond Albany County and the city of
Albany, since Albany County once encompassed most of upstate
New York north of Ulster County and westward to Lake Erie, gradually
reducing to its present boundaries by 1809. For the period before the
Revolution, Albany County's courts covered a vast territory, and these
records reflect this responsibility.
Our responsibility, 310 years after the creation of Albany, is to do
more than preserve these records: we must help to make them
available and accessible to the public. One important means to that
end is the publication of descriptions like this one, and we are grateful
to Mr. Lowry and the staff of the Albany County Hall of Records
for this fine effort.
Thomas G. Clingan
Albany County Clerk
The history of the New York courts is a long and complicated one.
This finding aid to Albany County's court records held in the Albany
County Hall of Records is designed to simplify that history and
to make these records more accessible to the general public.
The history and jurisdiction of fifteen different courts, most of
them now defunct, and other court-related records are outlined here.
The estimated 1,960 cubic feet of records range in date from
1652 (Fort Orange court minutes) to 1981 (court payroll).
More recent records of the Supreme and County Courts may be
accessed through the County Clerk's office.
This finding aid is broken down into seven main sections:
Pre-County Courts, County Courts, City Courts, The Supreme Court,
Surrogate's Court, Other Records (this section contains records of
several courts together), and Court Related Records.
A brief history of each court is given, followed by the series
descriptions of the various records for that court. Descriptions
include the record series title, yearscovered, the quantity of records
(cubic feet), how arranged, and the city or county agency from which
the records originated. The form of the records is described; for example,
whether the records are in a bound volume or unbound and arranged in a box.
Other information includes whether the records are handwritten or typed
and whether there is an index. Finally, there is a brief description of
Since the overwhelming majority of court requests concern
the finding of a specific court case, a user's guide, "A Guide to Usage,
With Hints for Finding a Specific Court Case" and a chart of court
jurisdiction has been included. The guide and chart may help the user
determine which court would have heard the particular
Court records can be difficult to use for those who are not
legal scholars. Determining a court's jurisdiction and the type of cases it
heard can take quite some time, especially considering the vast amount
of court records housed at the Hall of Records. It is hoped that this
finding aid will make these important and voluminous
records more accessible to all users.
A GUIDE TO USAGE, WITH HINTS FOR FINDING A CASE
The way to find a case is to narrow down the number of records in
which the case may possibly be found. In law, there are basically
two types of cases, civil and criminal. Civil cases involve law suits,
that is, one party or parties suing another party or parties.
Criminal cases, of course, involve an individual or individuals
charged with a crime. The first step is to decide which one of
these two categories your case will fall into. Once that is done,
you can eliminate a certain number of courts from
consideration by referring to the court jurisdiction chart
The next step is to have a time period in mind to help narrow
down the search even more. Then, check each court having
the proper jurisdiction for the time period it covers. Those
records not in the desired time period can now be eliminated.
While using courts with concurrent jurisdiction, remember to
check each series to see if it contains records of a civil or
Lets look at an example. Your ancestor was arrested in the
1890's , but you aren't sure of what crime. First, you would
check the jurisdiction chart, since you know it would be in
a criminal court. This eliminates six courts right away. Now,
you check all courts with criminal and concurrent jurisdiction
to find out which ones cover your time period. By doing this,
you narrow down your search to five courts, plus the trial term
of the Supreme Court. Not every series of each group of court
records covers your time period, so this narrows down your
search even more. If you don't find your case here, don't be
discouraged; it may be in one of the series described in
this finding aid's "Other Records" section.
Since our first example was a criminal case, let's now look
at some hints for finding a civil case. The first steps are
the same as with a criminal case: eliminate certain series by
jurisdiction and time period. If the time period matches your
case, it is best to start with the judgement dockets, books or
indexes, since all are indexed and cover different courts.
If your time period does not match, you will have to check
each court to find the case and don't forget to check the
"Other Records" section too.
There are a few more points to remember. First, check the
records carefully. Often a case will appear more than once
in a single series or in several different series. The more
information you find, the better your understanding of the case.
The second and most difficult aspect of using these
records is fighting your way through all the "legalese", so a law
dictionary is a must. Except where gaps appear in the series,
because records have been lost or damaged, you should be
able to find your case. Hopefully, this finding aid will make your
search much easier. Good luck!