Utah Court Records
This entry was originally written by Patricia Lyn Scott, CA and Gary Topping Ph.D. for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
In the first years of settlement, an LDS bishops court system operated within the LDS Church structure, maintaining jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases for those residents in a particular ward of the church. Edwin B. Firmage and Richard C. Mangrum, Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1988), expertly covers the time period when church and civil courts overlapped. County courts were created in 1849, overseeing civil and criminal cases involving more than $100 until Utah became a territory in 1851, when the county court was replaced by the county probate court. Justice of the peace courts were established at the same time (1849) for cases involving less than $100 (changed to $300 in 1874) and continue to operate today. When the county probate courts ceased to exist in 1874, civil and criminal matters and probate matters were transferred to the federally operated territorial district court, which had held concurrent jurisdiction with the county probate court since 1852. Concurrent jurisdiction was a result of conflicts between the federal government and local citizens as to who should have legal jurisdiction. For a discussion of court records in Utah, see Jaussi and Chaston (1974), described in Background Sources and James B. Allen, “The Unusual Jurisdiction of County Probate Courts in the Territory of Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 36 (Spring 1968): 132-42. See also an online research guide on court records available from the Utah State Archives at http://archives.utah.gov/referenc/referen.htm for a compressed history of court records.
With statehood in 1896, a uniform statewide district court system (see Utah Probate Records) took over civil and criminal matters as well as probate matters. There are voluminous court records available, but not indexed, on microfilm at the Utah State Archives. Included in their holdings are quite a few miners’ courts records, which frequently served the function of a county clerk in registering and transferring claims. Other historical materials on mining camps can be found at the Utah Historical Society (see Utah Archives, Libraries, and Societies).
Since 1999, Utah law permits public access to adoption records over one hundred years old. See the Utah State Archives research guide at http://archives.utah.gov/referenc/referen.htm.