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Alabama Court records cover a wide range of genealogy topics that can help you in your research, including land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalizations. Since Alabama court records cover such a wide variety of subjects, they can help you in many different ways. For example, they may help you locate ancestors' residences, determine occupations, find financial information, establish citizenship status, or clarify relationships between people. It all depends on the type of court records that your ancestors" names appear in. For Definitions of all court trems see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.
In general, the circuit court records and the office of the court clerk records in Alabama are not organized well. In fact, many of the older records are completely missing. Circuit court records and chancery records may be maintained by a single clerk's office in certain counties. However, most of the larger counties have separate clerks for each. Circuit court record maintenance is controlled by the state administrative office of the court.
The state supreme court records are maintained by the office of the state supreme court clerk. However, those records are given to the state's archives once 5 years have passed.
Alabama lands were owned by the Native Americans, British, French, and Spanish at various points before being granted to Colonial settlers. The Archivo General de Indias in Seville and the Archives Nationales in Paris hold the Spanish and French grant records. The British records are held in London, at the Public Record Office. In 1783, preemptive landowners had to prove that they held the title to their land, due to the American Revolution and the transfer of land from British control to United States control. The landowners had to register their land titles with the General Land Office (GLO) in order to prove their rights to their lands.
The federal government distributed some Alabama lands via homestead, sale, or bounty-land warrant. The Land Act of 1800 specified the rules of land claims. In 1803, it was streamlined and the local public land offices were given the power to auction and survey their own local lands. There were 13 such land offices. They were:
St. Stephens (established December 1806, transferred to Mobile, 1867), Huntsville (established at Nashville in March 1807, transferred to Huntsville, 1811, transferred to Montgomery, May 1866), Cahaba (established at Milledgeville, Georgia, August 1817, transferred to Cahaba, October 1818, transferred to Greenville, 1856), Tuscaloosa (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery, 1832), Sparta-Conecuh Courthouse (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery, 1854), Montgomery (established July 1832, closed 1927), Mardisville-Montevallo (established July 1832, transferred to Lebanon, 1842), Demopolis (established March 1833, transferred to Montgomery, March 1866), Lebanon (established April 1842, transferred to Centre 1858), Elba (established April 1854, transferred to Montgomery, April 1867), Greenville (established 1856, transferred to Montgomery 1866), Centre (established 1858, transferred to Huntsville 1866), Mobile (established 1867, transferred to Montgomery June 1879). Eventually, by 1866, all of them were transferred to Montgomery.
There are many BLM land grant indexes available today. However, land grants on credit from before 1820, incomplete homestead applications, and military bounty warrants from 1842 to 1858 are not included. The National Archives index of land grant records should be consulted by researchers, along with the other records relating to federal land states, which are held at the National Archives. It is also important to recognize the fact that, from 1866 to 1876, nobody who supported the Confederacy was eligible to receive homestead land grants.
Eventually, the land offices in Alabama were shut down. Their records were then sent to the main office in Washington, D.C. The Washington National Reference Center, which is located in Suitland, Maryland, can provide photocopies of those records to researchers. The website for the Bureau of Land Management contains Presidential patent records. Some other files and records relating to lands in Alabama can be found at the BLM Eastern States. Some of those records can also be found in the special collections of the University of Alabama Library, as well as in the Alabama Secretary of State's office and at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Each of those repositories also has original land grant records, plat maps, and field notes on file.
Each county's office of the probate judge holds tract books, which reference the sixteenth section sale of property from the state of Alabama, or other original federal government sales of property in Alabama. They are organized according to the legal description of the property. That description includes the name of the person who made the purchase, the acreage, the cost, the date that the purchase was made, a certificate number for the transaction, and whether or not the property sale had anything to do with a military act. Those records only include original land sales and do not include records for lands that were used to create new counties.
The records of the county probate judge contain any subsequent transfers of title for a given piece of land. Donation and sales records, called conveyance records, can be found in those offices.
Deeds of trust and liens were recorded with conveyance records in some counties. In others, they were recorded as "mortgages" in a separate file.
Generally, the most genealogically significant records in Alabama are stored in the office of the probate judge, which was known as the "orphans' court" prior to 1850. Records that may be found there include: Wills, Estates, Inventories, Administrations, Guardian's Bonds, Orphans' Court Records
Each group may also be divided into different volumes under different titles, such as "minutes" or "record." Minutes are usually briefs, while records are more detailed.
Early adoption records are part of the above records. However, as of the 1900s, most adoption records were kept separately from those other records. Any adoption record books are now legally sealed off to the public.
The clerk also recorded naturalization and "bastardy" records, but information in those records may vary. Existing records are only copies of the originals. The "loose papers," also known as the clerk's ledger, was where the clerk recorded information relating to wills, such as heirs and petitions for probate. The probate clerk may be able to provide copies of those records to the researcher.,
Commissioner's court records, deed records, and probate records may also contain other genealogically useful information that was recorded by the office of the probate judge. For example, Civil War military substitute contracts, indenture papers, and Native American and African American proofs of freedom may be found in those records. Slave lists showing slaves loaned tot he Confederacy or brought into Alabama may also be included. There is currently a project taking place under the charge of the Genealogical Society of Utah to try to transfer Alabama county "loose papers" to microfilm.
There are no indexes for county tax records, which are organized according to legal descriptions. Most Alabama tax records start in or after 1860, but there are a few earlier records in some counties. The Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Alabama, 1865-1866 (NARA M754, 6 reels) at the National Archives should be consulted for information on those records. Voter Lists ("Returns for Qualified Voters") for the years of 1867 and 1868 can be found at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Those records contain quite a bit of information on naturalization. Those who were registered in the Winston County and Walker County returns were listed along with their birth dates and counties of birth. The Walker, Winston, Mobile, and Marion County returns have each been published.
The National Archives has "Copies of Lists of Passengers arriving at Miscellaneous Ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and at Ports on the Great Lakes, 1820-1873" on file. That record includes information about Mobile, which was an Alabama port of entry. There is also an index available called "Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, 1890-1924." Generally, foreign-born residents of Alabama came into the United States via New York.