Delaware Court Records

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG, in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Delaware Family History Research series.
History of Delaware
Delaware Vital Records
Census Records for Delaware
Background Sources for Delaware
Delaware Maps
Delaware Land Records
Delaware Probate Records
Delaware Court Records
Delaware Tax Records
Delaware Cemetery Records
Delaware Church Records
Delaware Military Records
Delaware Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Delaware Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Delaware Immigration
Delaware Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Delaware
Delaware County Resources
Delaware Special Interests
Map of Delaware

Many of the early court records of Delaware have been published, such as Records of the Court of New Castle on Delaware, 1676'1681, with a second volume for the years 1681'99, Land and Probate Abstract Only (Lancaster and Meadville, Pa.: Colonial Society of Pennsylvania, 1904, 1935). Other examples are Court Records of Kent County, Delaware, 1680'1705, edited by Leon de Valinger, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1959), and Craig W. Horle's Sussex County Court Records 1677'1710 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991). The Inventory of the County Archives of Delaware: No. 1, New Castle County, by the Delaware Historical Records Survey (Dover, Del.: Public Archives Commission, 1941), while dated and published for only one county, still provides good detail about the court system and records. Charles H. B. Turner's Some Records of Sussex County Delaware (1909; reprint, Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1989) includes not only court, but civil, ecclesiastical, vestry, Bible, and other records.

The Delaware Public Archives has state and county-level court records back to the colonial period covering civil and criminal records, naturalizations, and indentures. Some earlier records are in Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. At the county level, the court of common pleas and superior court handle civil and criminal matters, depending on the offense. Cases involving equity and trust estates are heard in the chancery court. The office of the county prothonotary has custody of divorces until 1975 as well as civil and criminal court records, and naturalizations, although the latter are now in the archives. Land records are with the recorder of deeds, and the register of wills and Orphans' Court handles estate matters. The Orphans' Court was consolidated in 1975 with the court of chancery to handle estate disputes and other partitions, with records kept by the register in chancery in each county.