How to look for records of... Civil litigants
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
This is a brief guide to researching records of a family dispute settled in court (civil litigation). The National Archives holds extensive records of civil litigation. Online cataloguing is ongoing, so try searching for a person by name in the Catalogue within the relevant series. Otherwise the records can be difficult to find and understand. They can also be cumbersome, and you might find it useful to photograph records using a digital camera.
What is civil litigation?
Civil litigation covers legal disputes between two parties over matters such as land, property rights, debt, inheritance, trusts and frauds.
Civil litigants would have their cases heard in various courts of law, including common law courts and courts of equity. These different systems of justice co-existed until they were brought together in 1875.
What kind of information may I find?
The records of the equity courts are full and informative, and are a good resource for social, family and local history. It requires expertise to understand common law records, and they rarely contain useful detail.
19th century litigants were often described by their full name, including any middle names, so searching using shortened versions of their name may not be successful.