How to look for records of... Civil litigants

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

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

Online records

There are no significant collections of records of civil litigants available online.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

A few sections of the following records, but by no means all, have been catalogued by name.

Start by trying a surname search in our catalogue, before going on to search by range of years. Contemporary spellings are used, so try using wild cards when searching.

The early stages of 15th-century and early 16th-century law suits are well-catalogued, but later dates and initial pleadings after 1558 may require use of contemporary indexes available at The National Archives.

Records of Chancery (1386–1875)

Search our catalogue in C, as described above.

Date range (yyyy):

Records of the Supreme Court of Judicature (1875–2002)

Search our catalogue in J, as described above.

Date range (yyyy):

Records in other archives and organisations

Records held elsewhere

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2,500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.