Arkansas Court records include a wide selection of genealogy topics that can help you with your research, including land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalizations. Given that Arkansas court records cover a wide variety of topics, they can help you in many different ways. For instance, they will often help you locate ancestors’ residences, identify occupations, discover financial information, identify citizenship status, or make clear relationships between people. Everything will depend on on the kind of court records that your particular ancestors” names can be found in. For Definitions of all court trems see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.
Arkansas County records change greatly from county to county in both quality and volume. There are 4 forms of court records that are most likely to have details applicable in your genealogical research.
Arkansas Court Records
Justices of the peace, county courts, courts of chancery, and circuit courts each have jurisdiction on a countywide level. In general they have the following duties: Circuit Courts – Naturalizations, Major Civil Cases, Criminal Cases, Chancery Courts – Divorce, Equity, Probate, and Adoption Cases, County Courts – Tax Cases, County Financial Matters, Juvenile Cases, and Claim Cases, Justice of the Peace – Minor Contract Cases and Preliminary Criminal Cases
Generally, those records begin at the time when the county was organized. However, some records have been destroyed over the years, particularly by fires. When Arkansas was still a territory, it had courts of common pleas. However, records from those courts are no longer extant. All courts that function within each county have their records maintained by that county’s clerk. Researchers should check each county’s procedures carefully, since jurisdictions may vary. The FHL has also placed copies of many county court records on microfilm. The Arkansas History Commission now holds copies of those records.
Appeals from lower courts are heard by the state supreme court. In cases where county records have been lost, state supreme court records may be useful for filling in gaps. See Also Research In Court Records
Arkansas Land Records
What is now Arkansas was part of Missouri Territory as of 1812, when that territory was created. At that time, two previous French grant claims were awarded and the federal government agreed to honor land granted by Mexico and Spain.
Today’s counties of Desha and Arkansas were the locations where most of the Mexican and Spanish land grants were. In 1814 land commissions heard private land claims and there were acknowledgments of preemption rights. However, there were ongoing land claim problems, thanks to loose control by the Spanish government and a lack of following regulations. Sometimes grants were awarded without land even being surveyed first. The governor’s signature was also often forged on land grants. The FHL and the National Archives each hold original tract books and copies of Spanish land claims.
Some Spanish land grants also used a French system of measurement called the”arpent.” An arpent was equal to slightly more than four-fifths of an acre. Generally, early heads of household were given 800 arpents of land, which was around 68 acres. A grant of an extra 50 arpents (about 42 acres) was given for each child in the household.
From 1803 to 1836 most Native Americans were forced to give up their Arkansas land. As that process took place, the federal government distributed the land to settlers. In 1803 Arkansas District, which was still part of Louisiana Territory up until 1812, started processing land transactions. More were processed when Arkansas Territory was formed, in 1819. Land claims through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have been indexed in a multi-volume collection. William Lovely originally negotiated the cession of the northwest Arkansas land to the white people from the Native Americans. Lovely purchase donation claims from those private land sales are available on microfilm, as are the original tract book and Spanish land claims.
Bounty land was given to veterans of the War of 1812 and distributed to them using a lottery system. There is a master index available for those bounty land claims. It is organized according to veteran name. The search can be done via regiment, warrant number, or Soundex, and it can give a useful patent access number for the General Land Office.
In 1815, the rectangular survey system started to be used in Arkansas. It used one main meridian, which went along the western border of Phillips and Lee counties and the eastern border of what is now Monroe county. In 1818 the U.S. General land Office (GLO) established the first land office in Arkansas and ordered a 60-township survey. That first survey was completed in 1819, but it took until 1821 for any land to be sold. In 1820 two land offices opened at Davidsonville and Arkansas Post, but they were later moved to Batesville and Little Rock.
Arkansas Territory was divided into 4 separate land districts by Congress in 1832. That necessitated the opening of the Washington and Fayetteville land offices. As the demand for land grew, Clarksville and Helena land offices were also opened. They were opened before 1840 and, before 1850, one was also opened at Champagnole. The next decade saw the opening of another in Huntsville. By 1870, the Harrison, Camden, and Dardenelle offices were also opened. However, from 1880 to 1900 only the offices in Little Rock, Harrison, Dardanelle, and Camden remained open. The Little Rock office stayed open until 1933. The 1820 to 1908 federal government records can be found online. They indicate how land was passed to individuals from the government. Land descriptions, individual names, county names, and dates are all listed on the website. Document images may also be obtained.
The National Archives holds original applications, claims, case files, and records for Arkansas public-domain land distribution. The BLM, Eastern States Land Office holds land patent claims that were successful. The Arkansas State Land Commissioner’s Office holds copies of land office field notes, plat maps, and tract books. They are organized according to claim number or legal description of the land, and they are not indexed. The Arkansas History Commission has tract book copies on microfilm. The federal BLM records can be found online.
Federal land patents for Arkansas can be found in a 57-volume published collection, which covers all 75 Arkansas counties. It is simply called “Arkansas Land Patents.” Generally, counties are listed separately, but some are combined. Those sets of combined counties are: Arkansas Chicot, and Desha, Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, and St. Francis, Conway, Faulkner, and Perry, Grant and Saline, Jackson, Lawrence, and Woodruff, Lonoke and Prairie
The Homestead act was passed by Congress in 1862. Arkansas, which was a federal-land state, was included as part of that act. The National Archives holds application papers and case files for those transactions. Some homestead records are also available at the Arkansas History Commission.
The county seat in each county recorded all land transactions after land was transferred to individuals by the government. The county clerk’s office in each county should be consulted for those records. However, the FHL and the Arkansas History Commission also hold copies of many of those records. See Also Research In Land Records
Arkansas Probate Records
The chancery court generally created Arkansas probate records. Then it was up to the county clerk to file and maintain those records. Some of the most useful county records are those relating to probate proceedings and wills. Many of those probate records are recorded in bound volumes and include such documents and information as: Recorded Wills , Appointments of Administrators, Court Orders for the Inventory of an Estate, Inventories, Estate Sale Records, Guardianship Appointments and Accounts, Administrator/Executor Accounts, Lists of Heirs, Final Accounts
Wills and probate records from before 1920 are mainly available at the Arkansas History Commission and the FHL on microfilm. Some Arkansas counties also have published volumes of probate records and wills available.
Several loose bundles of probate records may also be found in county clerk offices. The documents in those packets are generally papers that were filed with the court in connection with insanity, guardianship, and estate settlement cases. Some of them are chronologically organized, while others may be organized semi-alphabetically. The Arkansas History Commission has original loose probate records for Pulaski County on file. See Also Research In Probate Records
Arkansas Tax Records
Each county courthouse holds tax records for that county. The Arkansas History Commission also has tax records for the state on file. In fact, they have a collection of almost 600 tax book from across the state. Some are original, while others have been microfilmed. The FHL also has some tax records available. State auditor’s copies of tax records can be helpful for filling in gaps where county tax records no longer exist. Some county property tax records have been published. Tax lists and other records are also currently being used to try to replace the data that has been lost from the no longer extant 1890 federal census records. See Also Research In Tax Records