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State of Rhode Island
Court Records Research

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

Rhode Island Court Records

Ever since Rhode Island's counties have been created, in 1729, the courts have only kept county-wide records. The entire state's court cases were handled by the general court of trials and its lower courts before that point. The Rhode Island Superior Court Judicial Records Center, 1 Hill Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island 02860 holds the 1645 to 1900 records for state and colonial courts. Criminal and civil courts were formed in 1729. They were known as the superior court of judicature and the court of common pleas, respectively. Each county's court records contain divorce, debt and trespass records.

Rhode Island Land Records

Land records were recorded in deed books or in proprietors records and filed in the town office of each Rhode Island town beginning whenever each town was founded. Due to the way in which those records were originally recorded and a number of other factors, many of them are indexed, but the indexes are not all the same. Some are much more accurate or contain much more useful information than others. For example, some indexes of grantors/grantees list full names, others list first initials and surnames, and some only list surnames.

Proprietors divided their lands into lots. However, not all plots of land were easy to identify or divide equally. So, in some cases, a system of bounds and metes was used in the descriptions of the land.

The first volume of Records of the Colony of Rhode Island included many deed records. However, the Rhode Island Archives does have some 1640s records that were not part of that volume on file.

Rhode Island Probate Records

All other New England states at some point used probate districts or counties for the purpose of organizing probate functions. However, Rhode Island has always kept its probate records according to town. Each town's council handled probate functions. Each town's council handled appointing administrators, inventories, estates, wills and similar functions. However, each town had a different system of record keeping, which sometimes involved will books, council books, or probate books. Town functions weren't split into separate books in a uniform way until much later. So, earlier records may be a bit disorganized.

Rhode Island Tax Records

The Rhode Island Historical Society, Rhode Island State Archives, and each individual town clerk's office each hold some Rhode Island tax records, several of which were recorded prior to the Revolutionary War. Most town clerk's offices have an inventory available of whatever tax lists they have on file. Yearly tax records can be a good indication of a particular family's social status and presence in a given community. However, most tax records are not officially inventoried.

Rhode Island Immigration Records

The slave trade thrived in Rhode Island, especially in Bristol and Newport. Those were also entry points for immigrants later on, as was Providence. The National Archives-New England Region holds the immigration records.

The National Archives-New England Region holds the NARA M575 publication on microfilm. That includes passenger records from the U.S. Customs Service for Bristol and Warren from 1820 to 1871, as well as Newport from 1820 to 1857 and Providence from 1820 to 1867. The National Archives also has passenger lists up to 1943 and the Index to Passengers Arriving at Providence, R.I., June 18, 1911-October 5, 1954 (NARA microfilm publication T518) on file.

The National Archives-New England Region has soundex cards covering 1790 to 1906 for New England. All Providence Federal District Court naturalizations granted between 1842 and 1904 are included in those soundex cards.

Unfortunately, not all Rhode Island naturalizations were granted by the Federal District Court. Both state and county court could grant them as well. That means that some records can be difficult to locate. The Rhode Island Superior Court Judicial Records Center holds several records that used to be housed at the Providence College Library. A microfilmed personal name index for those records for the years 1793 to 1900 can be found at both the State Archives and the Records Center.

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