Minnesota Court Records
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.
Major courts that kept records of genealogical value in Minnesota were established as follows:
1849–1858: Territorial courts were created in 1849. They included district, probate, and supreme courts. In 1858 territorial courts were replaced by state courts which kept the same names and handled most of the same kinds of cases.
1858–present: State Supreme Court is an appellate court that hears cases from the district court.
1983–present: A state Court of Appeals hears most appeals from the district court.
1858–present: Probate Court has handled probates of estates, incompetency cases, guardianship, and other probate matters. It also acts as the juvenile court for cases in counties with a population under 40,000.
1858–present: Municipal and justice of the peace courts in local cities and towns have jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases. Most municipal courts merged into the county probate courts
1858–present: District courts are established over several counties but sit in each county. They receive cases from lower courts, such as justices of the peace and municipal courts, which were abolished in the 1970s. They have jurisdiction over certain criminal and civil cases, including divorces and naturalization, and over juvenile cases for counties with a population over 40,000. Many counties have transferred their older records to the Minnesota Historical Society, but the indexes have generally remained with the county. The clerk of the district court (name changed in the 1980s to court administrator) has indexes of plaintiffs and defendants. The lower court records were usually kept by the clerk of the district court. The clerk also handled marriage, birth,and death records on a county level.
Now most vital records are not handled by courts, but by other county offices, usually the recorder. The records are available at county courthouses, the Minnesota Historical Society Library, and your county registry. The Family History Library has few civil and criminal court records of Minnesota. You can obtain the needed records by visiting or corresponding with the appropriate court.
Using Minnesota Court Records
Minnesota Historical Society A guide to different court records in Minnesota, and where to find them.