Old court records are scattered, at best. Throw in the esoteric language and changes in the laws through four centuries, and the difficulties of finding, reading, and comprehending legal documents are daunting. Rapaport's love of American history and her legal expertise have enabled her to produce a useful resource directory that also inspires researchers to delve into the culture of the subjects they research.
Part 1, "Understanding the Basics," provides an overview of the American legal system in general and the courts of the New England states in particular. The various types of court records are described, and logical places to find original and published versions are suggested. Part 2, "Getting Specific, State by State," offers court-history time lines and describes which records can be found for every court in each New England state. A separate chapter covers federal courts. Courts not part of the judicial branch, such as military and tax courts, are not included, nor are deed registries.
Part 3, "Sampling the Sources," uses colorful examples to show how court records can reveal the flavor of a period as well as factual information. Researching slander in Maine, bankruptcy in post-Civil War Vermont, and justice of the peace records in Connecticut, for example, shows how litigious society has been since early days and paints interesting character sketches of the individuals involved. Readers familiar with the author's regular column, "Tales from the Courthouse," in New England Ancestors magazine know how fascinating some of these records can be.
The appendix lists contact information for courts, archives, law libraries, and publishers; provides a legal glossary; and recommends further reading, including online sources. Although much of this information can be found elsewhere, its inclusion here is helpful. A valuable reference tool as well as a training manual for historians and genealogists interested in New England. The publisher's Web site [http://www.QuillPenPress.com] provides free updates. Sally Jane
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