Our ancestors appeared in many different types of courts – criminal, civil and equity – either as plaintiffs or defendants, criminals or victims. There were also church courts and manorial courts which oversaw our ancestors moral lives or the governance of local communities.
A search in the Society’s library catalogue will show not only guides and reference books explaining how the various courts operated, but also whether we have indexes or “calendars” showing people who came before the courts and transcriptions of some records themselves.
For example using search terms such as quarter sessions or assizes will bring up calendars of people convicted or indicted, witness depositions, petitions.
The library catalogue and digital collections can be found on the collections page of our website
The Library has many indexes and finding aids showing people who were witnesses, plaintiffs or defendants in civil actions before the equity courts – especially the court of Chancery. The library holds the Bernau Index which indexes many records, including the Court of Chancery.
This index was compiled by Charles Bernau one of the principal founder members of the SoG and a professional genealogical researcher. During the course of his work he became aware of the vast amount of genealogical information hidden in the then unindexed records of the Court of Chancery. Between 1914 and 1929, he and a team of helpers began to compile a card index to this and other material which is mainly at The National Archives. By the end, they had references to some 4½ million individuals between roughly 1350 and 1800, but with the emphasis on the 18th century. A microfilm copy of these slips can be found in the library.
Supplementing the Bernau index are some 23 volumes of 'Bernau notes' which list, approximately, a further 15,000 people giving evidence in Chancery court cases around the period 1714 to 1758 and these notes have been abstracted as part of the Society’s online digital collections made available to members.
Other online digital court records include a datebase index of Outlawry writs made before the Kings Bench Plea Side covering November 1760 - March 1816.
Outlawry in civil cases is simply a punishment for a contempt of court e.g. the defendant has put himself beyond the reach of the law. As an example, James Child of Begelly House in Pembrokeshire was staying with relatives in Carmarthenshire when he was outlawed. It is not clear if he was deliberately evading the Pembrokeshire sheriff and/or his many creditors by hiding outside the county or he was there for legitimate reasons.
As member you can make the most of our resources, access our experts and find a welcoming community of people interested in family history and genealogy.
We all have roots. Let’s find them together.