Vermont state archives opens court records for research
Secretary of State Jim Condos has announced the successful completion of the first phase of an ongoing initiative to preserve and improve access to archival court records. Orleans County court records are now open for research by the public at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA) in Middlesex. The records depict 145 years of Vermont court history, documenting changes in civil and criminal jurisdiction; shifts in penal practice; the development of the judiciary and the legal profession; and legal rights that persist today.
Secretary Condos noted that, “This perhaps is the first time since these records were created that they are together in one place where the public can easily research them.” Archivists at VSARA have been working since January to accession, organize, and describe the 152 cubic feet of dockets, record books and case files dating from 1800 to 1945.
The records document all three courts that operated at the county level in Vermont until the late twentieth century: the county court, the supreme court, and the court of chancery. Beyond their importance in documenting the judicial branch of state government, the records offer a richly detailed view of the lives of ordinary Vermonters. “They show the experiences of a diverse cross-section of society — farmers and businessmen, paupers and property owners, men and women – throughout their personal and professional lives,” Condos said.
Court records are a valuable resource for researching the larger social and economic history of Orleans County and its communities, as well as the experiences of individuals and families. A sampling of historical details revealed by the records include the prevalence of divorce in the early 1800’s; 19th century counterfeiting; trade and population movement between Orleans County and the border region of Canada; types of business speculation in rural Vermont; the massive wave of Depression foreclosures; and early battles over water rights and water pollution.
Archivists at VSARA have now begun work on the second phase of the project which will focus on Caledonia County court records. Those records are expected to be completed and open for research by the end of 2012. The project will wind up in 2013 with the processing of Lamoille County records, preparation of a guide for researchers, and the launch of an online exhibit.
In 2011 VSARA was awarded a grant of $118,078 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to preserve and improve access to archival court records from Orleans, Caledonia, and Lamoille Counties. VSARA intends to build upon the experience of this initial project to eventually address the archival needs of all of Vermont’s court records.
The NHPRC, a statutory body affiliated with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), supports a wide range of activities to preserve, publish, and encourage the use of documentary sources, created in every medium ranging from quill pen to computer, relating to the history of the United States.
Source: Secretary of State