Alabama Government records cover a broad range of genealogy subject areas that can help you as part of your research, such as land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalization’s.
For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.
Alabama County records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find many kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research.
Alabama Court Records
Searching court records can be a challenging task. Unfortunately, the organization and tracking of most court clerk and circuit court records is not maintained very well. You will often find that records are missing.
If you are researching in a smaller county, you may find that the same clerk handles both chancery and circuit court records. However, the larger the area, the more likely these will be separated. The maintenance of circuit court records is handled by the state administrative office.
State supreme court records are held in a state-level office of the supreme court clerk for five years. After this period of time, they are archived. See Also Research In Court Records
Alabama Tax Records
It is difficult to find county tax records from before 1860. The records that do exist are not indexed, but are organized by legal description. You can also find information from the Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Alabama, 1865-1866 (NARA M754, 6 reels) on microfilm at the National Archives.
Voter lists from 1867-68 are available at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. These hold a wealth of information on naturalization. These “returns for qualified voters” include county and date of birth for Winston and Walker counties.
They have been published along with those for Mobile and Marion counties. See Also Research In Tax Records
Alabama Land Records
Because the territory of present day Alabama was inhabited by the Spanish, the French, the British, and the Native Americans, settlers were granted titles from all of these nations.
Records can be found at Archives Nationales in Paris, the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, and the Public Record Office in London.
After the American Revolution, the U.S. General Land Office (GLO) required all landowners to file proof of their land title.
The federal government held all ungranted lands, and titles were transferred to individuals either by sale, by bounty-land warrant, or homestead. Local public land offices were authorized to survey and auction land by the Land Act of 1800 and its amendment in 1803.
Thirteen land offices were opened to handle sales:
- St. Stephens (established December 1806, transferred to Mobile, 1867)
- Huntsville (established at Nashville in March 1807, transferred to Huntsville, 1811, transferred to Montgomery, May 1866)
- Cahaba (established at Milledgeville, Georgia, August 1817, transferred to Cahaba, October 1818, transferred to Greenville, 1856)
- Tuscaloosa (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery, 1832)
- Sparta-Conecuh Courthouse (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery, 1854)
- Montgomery (established July 1832, closed 1927)
- Mardisville-Montevallo (established July 1832, transferred to Lebanon, 1842)
- Demopolis (established March 1833, transferred to Montgomery, March 1866)
- Lebanon (established April 1842, transferred to Centre 1858)
- Elba (established April 1854, transferred to Montgomery, April 1867)
- Greenville (established 1856, transferred to Montgomery 1866)
- Centre (established 1858, transferred to Huntsville 1866)
- Mobile (established 1867, transferred to Montgomery June 1879)
Land grants by the BLM are indexed and easy to access, but do not include uncompleted homestead applications, land grants on credit from before 1820, or military bounty warrants from 1842-1858. These can be found at the National Archives. You should also note that homestead land grants were denied to Confederate sympathizers from 1866 to 1876.
The Washington National Reference Center in Suitland MD holds the original records from the land offices. A photo copy can be requested from this office. The Bureau of Land Management website allows search of presidential patents and copies are available for free.
Additional files regarding Alabama lands can be found at the BLM. The Alabama Department of Archives and History also has some duplicate copies, as well as the Alabama Secretary of State and the University of Alabama library. These offices also hold some plat maps and field notes for the original land grants.
The county probate judge’s office would hold tract books arranged by legal description that show the original transfer of property from the U.S. government or State of Alabama.
Information includes the name of the purchaser, the number of acres purchased, the price, date of purchase, certificate number, and whether or not the land was obtained under a military act. Lands that were cut away for the formation of new counties or subsequent sales of original tracts would not be included in these records.
These subsequent sales would be found in the probate judge’s records of the county in which the property lies. The details of the transfer of property by sale or donation are included in the conveyance records.
Location of mortgages records can vary. In some counties, mortgages were recorded in the same volumes as outright conveyance of real property, while in others, liens and deeds of trust are recorded separately as “Mortgages.”
See Also Research In Land Records
Alabama Probate Records
Before 1850, the office of the probate judge was known as the “orphans court.” Important genealogical records can be found in this office for a variety of purposes. Records that may be found there include: Wills, Estates, Inventories, Administrations, Guardian’s Bonds, Orphans’ Court Records
Each office labels this records in a different way. You might see them as wills, inventories guardian’s bonds, estates, administrations, or orphan’s court records. These records can contain detailed accounts of proceedings, called “record” volumes.
However, you could also find brief abstracts of the proceedings, call “minutes.” While modern adoption records are kept separately and sealed, adoption records before the 1900’s are usually available through the office of the probate judge.
These can also include the binding out of poor orphans, naturalization records, and bastardy records. All records will be copies of the original. The amount of detail provided will depend on the opinion of the clerk about its legal relevance.
“Loose papers” may be available that include documents that prove a will. For example, a “petition to probate” will list all of the deceased’s heirs.
However, records like these must be requested from the probate clerk. Other records that could be held here are African American or Native American proofs of freedom, contracts for military substitutes, indenture papers, and slave lists that were imported or on loan to the Confederacy.
Some of these can be found on microfilm from the Genealogical Society of Utah, which has begun to archive loose papers in Alabama counties. See Also Research In Probate Records
Alabama Immigration & Naturalization Records
New York port records should always be checked when searching for immigration records. Most immigrants who were born in other countries arrived through Ellis Island.
However, the National Archives microfilm of Copies of Lists of Passengers arriving at Miscellaneous Ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and at Ports on the Great Lakes, 1820–1873 contains list- of people who used Mobile as a port of entry.
Another indexed list that can be consulted is the Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, 1890–1924. See Also Research In Immigration Records