Wisconsin Court Records
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Information about many of your ancestors can be found in court records, perhaps as defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, or jurors. They may have participated in cases involving probate, naturalization, divorce, debt, adoption, guardianship, licenses, appointment to public offices, taxes, civil and criminal lawsuits, property disputes, crimes, or other matters brought before a court. Court records can establish family relationships and places of residence. They often provide occupations, descriptions of individuals, and other excellent family history information.
Between the date counties were created and the date they were organized, which could be several years, some counties were attached to other counties for administrative purposes. This sometimes makes it hard to find the early records.
Researching Wisconsin Court Records
Major courts that kept records of genealogical value in Wisconsin were established as follows:
Federal and territorial courts recorded many early court cases. Some of the territorial court actions have been published. Other Wisconsin courts that kept records of genealogical value were established as follows:
1800s–present Circuit courts have countywide jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases and some appeals. Cases can be transferred to a court of appeals.
1836– present Justice of the peace courts have civil and criminal jurisdiction.
1836–present Municipal courts have citywide jurisdiction over misdemeanors and ordinance violations.
1836–present The supreme court serves as the statewide appellate court.
1839–1849 Probate courts were established in each county. These were abolished in 1849 and the county courts took their place in handling probate cases.
1848–present County courts have countywide jurisdiction concurrently with circuit courts for criminal and civil cases and have exclusive jurisdiction for probates, juvenile matters, dependency, and neglect matters. From 1854 to 1913, the county courts handled probate matters but did not have jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases.
The Family History Library does not have copies of Wisconsin civil and criminal court records. They are available at the office of the Clerk of Courts in the respective county and at archival repositories.
A more accurate chronology of the Wisconsin courts system can be found at the Wisconsin Court System website.