Alaska Court Records
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Alaska court records are one of the best sources of genealogical information in the Alaska State Archives. These records relate to ethnic groups, particularly the naturalization records. From the Alaska purchase in 1867 until 1884, there was no formal government in Alaska. An act of Congress in 1884 provided for a government at Sitka and conferred district status on Alaska. An act of 1912 designated Alaska a U.S. territory. Its capital was established at Juneau.
Prior to 1959 when Alaska became a state, the U.S. District Court of the Territory of Alaska administered its judicial affairs. The U.S. commissioner’s courts administered the justices of the peace.
The pre-1959 district courts were districtwide courts and had jurisdiction over civil and criminal affairs. Federal judges were appointed as early as 1884. The whole of Alaska Territory at that time had only one district that was administered by a judge in Sitka until 1903. Prior to 1884, cases were tried in a district court of California, Oregon, or Washington. The general laws of Oregon were made applicable to the territory and appeals were to be taken to the circuit court in Oregon.
In 1903 three judicial divisions were established with judges in Juneau, Saint Michaels, and Eagle City. A fourth district was created in 1909, and the four seats were placed in Juneau, Nome, Valdez, and Fairbanks. The Valdez district seat was moved to Anchorage in 1948. These districts, for all practical purposes, can be compared to counties in other American states.
District 1 (Juneau) covers the southeastern Alexander Archipelago, including the cities of Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Wrangell.
District 2 (Nome) covers the northern portion of Alaska, including the cities of Barrow and Nome.
District 3 (Valdez and later Anchorage) covers the southern portion of Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands and the cities of Anchorage and Kodiak.
District 4 (Fairbanks) covers the central portion of Alaska, including Bethel, Fairbanks, and Toksook Bay.
Since statehood, district court records, which are similar to the circuit and district courts of other states, have been limited to minor civil and criminal matters. The post-1959 district court duties include the issuing of marriage licenses, arrest warrants, misdemeanor cases, and acting as the temporary custodian of a deceased person’s property.
The Alaska State Archives has the territorial court records in Record Groups 505-509, which include Record Group (RG) 505, District of Alaska (1884–1900); RG 506, First Judicial District (1900–1960); RG 507, Second Judicial District (1900–60); RG 508, Third Judicial District (1900–60); and RG 509, Fourth Judicial District (1900–60). Many of these records are also on file at the National Archives—Pacific Alaska Region. An inventory of Alaskan territorial court records is available through the state archives in the booklet entitled Record Group Inventory: District and Territorial Court System (Juneau: Alaska State Archives, Department of Administration, 1987).
Alaskan territorial courts were endowed with authorities commonly assumed by county governments and school districts in other portions of the United States. Thus, Alaskan territorial district court records provide a valuable tool in studying Alaskan frontier life.
The post-1959 Alaska state court system was extended to include the supreme court, superior court, and the magistrate’s court. The supreme court is a statewide appellate court that issues injunctions and other writs. The superior court is also a statewide court with jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters, including probate and juvenile matters, as well as appeals from the magistrate’s court. Magistrate’s courts are districtwide courts with jurisdiction over misdemeanors and violations of municipal ordinances. There is one supreme court in Juneau, four superior courts, four district courts, and sixty-two magistrate courts.