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.
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.
What do I need to know before I start?
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?
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.
Try to find out:
- at which court the action took place and when
- the date when the case was heard
- the names of the litigants