New Brunswick Court Records
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Records of the Inferior Courts (RG8) This record group includes the records of County Magistrates, Justices of the Peace for each County, Parish Civil Court Records by County, and Police and Stipendiary Magistrates Court Records. All of which deal with the minor offenses against law and order that originally came before a town meeting, then the Courts of Quarter Session.
Courts of Quarter Session or General Sessions of the Peace (RG8) Because Volume One was listed with “Marriage Certificates,” I discovered the records of the Courts of Quarter Sessions. Because the first entry concerned my triple-great grandfather and grandmother I read on in The Book of Records of the Court of Quarter Sessions for the County of Northumberland in the Province of New Brunswick. Begun at the point called Beaubears Point in the Township of Newcastle on Tuesday, September 15, 1789.
- The King (vs). Robert Forsyth, Christ[ophe]r Dignam, Murdoch McLeod, Alex[ande]r McDonald and Wm. Sharp…brought to the Court … on the complaint of Wm. Martin and Mary Ann his wife against the defendants for breaking into the house of the said Martin and taking away by force his daughter Jane Martin on the night of the 10th day of February 1788…
Robert Forsyth was a Loyalist, one of the unpopular “new settlers,” while the Martins were long-established “Davis settlers”, but he and Jane were married, probably well before that first Quarter Session of the Peace was held, for the Martins did not appear to press the charge. The defendants were acquitted, and in 1811 “for love and affection,” William Martin gave some 480 acres of land to his “lawful daughter Jean Forsyth, wife of Robert Forsyth.”
There is no guarantee you will find such a romantic episode to enliven a family history, but the early records of the Courts of Quarter Session deal with all the minutiae of daily life in a settlement. Because the populations were small, almost every mature male was expected to undertake some duty for the good of the community. They served on the Grand or Petit Juries, and they held appointments such as Fence or Path Viewers, Surveyors of Lumber, Inspectors of Fish and Barrels, Hog Reeves, Assessors, Overseers of the Poor, Town Clerk, Magistrates, or Justices of the Peace.
The maturity and standing of an individual is indicated by the responsibility of the positions he held. Three years after his appearance before the court on the charge of abducting Jane Martin, Robert Forsyth was serving on the Grand Jury, and in subsequent years he moved from Fence Viewer, to Overseer of Roads, to Overseer of the Poor. Where the date of death is not known, it is possible to establish limits by noting when a man’s name disappears from the lists of jurors and parish officers, or when a father and son with the same name cease to be distinguished by Sr. and Jr. When a region becomes large enough to support a newspaper, notices about the coming date, and reports of the Quarter Sessions’ decisions and appointments are easily searched in print.
These General Sessions of the Peace were also concerned with the lesser crimes in the community. Otherwise respectable ancestors may prove to have mixed political passion with too much rum at election time, or they may simply have been called as witnesses to some altercation, but such mentions do pin-point their whereabouts at a specific point in time.
The courts also dealt with licenses (tavern, ferry, and such), and matters concerning indentures and apprenticeships came before it. Such disputes are a rich source of information.
Courts of Quarter Session Books are not listed in theCounty Guides, perhaps because few are microfilmed. Book I of Northumberland quoted above is, since it contains marriage records, but Book II and following are not.
Other Inferior Courts As the population of a county or a settlement grew, the old General Sessions of the Peace could no longer handle everything. Municipal or parish or county officials were appointed and the records expanded accordingly. The Magistrates’ Courts are where you will find convictions, and more often acquittals, in the countless cases prohibition produced in the 1920s. Barry J. Grant’s When Rum was King (pages 62-67) explains the political appointment of magistrates and sheriffs and how some of their courts functioned. With a very good index, and long lists of “Bootlegging cases taken from a selection of New Brunswick Newspapers,” you just might find some “connection” or other involved.
Records of the Intermediate Courts (RG6) The County Court Records, RS429 (Albert) to RS443 (York). Card index and files are available for most counties at the PANB, see County Guides.
Records of the Superior Courts (RG5) Superior Courts are the Supreme Court of Judicature; the Court of Exchequer; the Court of Chancery or Equity; the Court of Errors and Appeals; the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes and any courts commissioned by the Board of Admiralty in London. For family historians, the Chancery or Equity Court is perhaps most useful.
Courts of Equity
These court records (RG5, RS55) relate to the settling of estates and related guardianships of infants and minors. As explained in each County Guide: the case files are on microfilm, but the card index, 1785-1912 is not.
In the PANB’s RG5, RS 42, Supreme Court Cases, I found a series of actions taken by and against one of New Brunswick’s early architects and builders. Court actions that tied his name to the Trustees of the Free Meeting House in Moncton as well as throwing light on his other business transactions.
Finding them was simple, there is a card index for 1784-1822, a finding aid index for 1822-1835. The Supreme Court of Judiciary in the province, among other things, dealt with civil lawsuits for sums up to £300. Over that was a matter for the Governor in Council. A small sum today, a large sum in 1830, but if a man was in the building trade, shipbuilding, or other businesses that required capital investment, do not overlook this court.
Other Records of the Department of Justice
These include the Records of the Central Administration for the Registration of Deeds, and County Registry Office Records (microfilm), see County Guides.
There are also runs of each counties’ Sheriff’s Office Records; Coroner’s Office Records; and County Jail Records, in some of which I found architectural plans and drawings of early 19th century court houses and jails, often a building that combined both uses.
Newly Released Records
From time to time, PANB issues a “What’s New” list of records on their homepage. One such list of “Archival Material Recently Available” was published in Generations Vol. 18, No. 1, Issue 67, Spring 1996, pages 26-27. It included a long list of Supreme Court and Supreme Court in Circuit Records from the 19th century, Coroner’s Office Records, and a miscellaneous selection that sounded fascinating. Keep an eye on their website for this sort of announcement.
- Much of this material is taken from 'Courts of Quarter Session', Douglas, Here Be Dragons, too! pages 47-54.
- PANB, RG 18, RS 153, reel F-1261.
- Northumberland County Records, Volume 9, page 26 f.
- Douglas, Althea. "New Brunswick Legal Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/New_Brunswick_Legal_Records_%28National_Institute%29.