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State of Oregon
Court Records Research

Oregon Court records cover a wide range of genealogy topics that can help you in your research, including land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalizations. Since Oregon 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.

Oregon Court Records

There are several courts that make up the Oregon court system. They are: Circuit Courts, County Courts, District Courts, Justice Courts, Municipal or City Courts, Supreme Court.

Circuit courts presided over major trials. Those included divorces, criminal cases, guardianship cases, and probate cases. In some cases, county courts existed. If so, they tried some probate and juvenile cases. Minor criminal cases were tried by district courts for each county. Justice courts shared county jurisdiction with circuit courts and also handled minor criminal matters. Liquor control violations and violations of municipal laws were handled by the municipal or city courts. The supreme court handled appeals and had the final say over all cases in the state.

The Oregon State Archives and some of the county courthouses hold most of the court records for the state. The "Oregon Historical County Records Guide" on the website for the Oregon State Archives has an inventory of those records and lists their locations.

Oregon Land Records

On September 27, 1850, a Congressional act was passed that gave land to both white settlers and Native American/white "half-breeds." Some settlers who came to the area between December 1, 1850 and December 1, 1853 were also eligible to receive land under that act. However, acreage received varied anywhere from 160 acres to 640 acres. It all depended on the settlement date, marital status, and other factors. It was a requirement that each settler claiming land in that way stay on the land for at least 4 years to cultivate it and live on it. Claims were filed with land offices. The Genealogical Forum of Oregon has now indexed, abstracted, and published those claim records. The index is organized according to both location and name. Many libraries have those publications on file. The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) files for Oregon land claims is on file on microfilm at both the FHL and the Oregon State Archives.

The following Oregon Towns had public land offices: Oregon City (pre-1855-1905), Winchester (1855-59), Roseburg (1860-unknown), Burns (1889-1925), Le Grande (1867-1925), Linkville (1873-77), Lakeview (1877-unknown), The Dalles (1875-unknown), Portland (1905-25).

Some of the records that were filed at those offices may include: Cash Entries, Homestead Final Certificates, Canceled Homestead Entries, Timber-Culture Final Certificates, Canceled Timber-Culture Entries, Desert-Land Final Certificates, Canceled Desert-Land Entries, Town Lots, Indian Allotments.

Some records may also include notifications to the Oregon Surveyor General of settlers who lived on lands that were not surveyed.

BLM survey notes, tract books, and plat books for Oregon are on a series of microfilms at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon Library. The FHL also has copies of those records on file.

Congress used the 5-year Homestead Act of 1862 to give as much as 160 acres of land to any person who agreed to stay on that land for at least 5 years. However, in 1912 that requirement was lowered to only 3 years. The National Archives-Pacific Alaska Region, which is located in Seattle, Washington, has most of those original homestead applications for Oregon on file. The FHL has microfilms of those records, which may include names of applicants whose claims were canceled, on file. It also has an index to those records available.

Mortgages, deeds, and all subsequent records relating to a tract of land were recorded on a county level from the time of each county's formation. The Oregon State Archives has deeds on file, and the FHL has microfilmed copies.

Oregon Probate Records

The circuit courts and county courts kept probate records in Oregon. The Oregon State Archives has a collection of those records on file. The Oregon State Archives online database, which is called "Oregon Historical County Records Guide," can indicate which probate records are available and where they can be found. That website also goes into detail about each type of record and which records are still held by the courthouses in the various Oregon counties. A microfilmed collection of many county probate records is available through the FHL.

Oregon Tax Records

The Oregon State Archives holds some tax roll and assessment records from 1845 to 1900. However, most of those records are still kept in the courthouse of the county where they were recorded originally. "Reports of Estates, 1903- 1913" is a state treasurer tool, which has been provided to the Oregon State Archives. It contains information on those who died testate (with wills) including the names of their heirs and the date on which they died. The tool lists that information according to county and year that they event took place.

"Tax Lot Cards" were created by each county. They list real property and track the size of the property and ownership of the property. They function as deed references. The "Oregon Historical County Records Guide" on the Oregon State Archives website has an inventory of those records.

Tax rolls were required to be kept until 1905 for each county. Any records made after that year must be kept for 50 years, but may be destroyed after that time has passed. However, records from years ending in five or zero are never destroyed because they are used as research tools.

Oregon Immigration Records

There were six immigration ports in Oregon. They were: Astoria, Newport, North Bend, Portland, Reedsport, Tillamook.

The National Archives-Pacific Alaska Region in Seattle, Washington holds the Portland port records, which include those from the Portland Collector of Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Portland Office. There have been no passenger lists found for Portland or the smaller ports to date.

Any court could naturalize a foreign-born resident of Oregon. Each county may hold its own records from prior to 1906. However, those records could be in court minutes, journals, naturalization books, or other records. Many citizenship records can be found in a collection at the Oregon State Archives.

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