Rhode Island Court Records

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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

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

Courts kept the only countywide records in Rhode Island, and that has been the case since the inception of counties in 1729. After 1729, a superior court of judicature (criminal) and inferior court of common pleas (civil) as well as a supreme court were established, similar to those in Massachusetts. Debts, divorces, and trespass claims are found within the court records for each county. Previous to 1729 the General Court of Trials existed for the entire state along with several lower courts. All the colonial court records from colonial and state courts from 1645 to 1900 are located at the Rhode Island Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, 5 Hill St., Pawtucket, RI 02860. Records are available for on-site research with some restrictions. Civil cases (1671'1900), criminal cases (1671'1900), divorces (1749'100), and naturalizations (1793'1974) are presently available for research.

Court records in print include records of the general court of trials: Rhode Island Court Records: Records of the Court of Trials of the Colony of Providence Plantations, 2 vols. (Providence, R.I.: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1920, 1922), which covers from 1647 to 1670; and Jane F. Fiske, Gleanings from Newport Court Files, 1659'1783 (Boxford, Mass.: Genbooks, n.d.)