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What’s in which circuit where

The Legal Genealogist knows better.

Really.

Even if I don’t show it as often as I should.

I mean, you’d think after as many blog posts as I’ve written saying I should have seen that question coming that I’d be better at seeing the question coming.

And I suspected yesterday that somebody was going to take one look at that table of National Archives repositories for the records of the Circuit Courts and ask the question that pinged into the email about a nanosecond after the blog post was published.

What districts — what states and what territories — are in what circuits?

First off, the breakdown today:

Circuits

And see the cool interactive map at the Federal Judicial Center website where you can mouse over a circuit and see the individual district courts within that circuit.

So… what about the circuits historically? Where are those records now?

Here’s the thing.

From the 1789 Judiciary Act until 1891, there were three levels of federal courts: the District Courts, which were low-level trial courts with fairly limited jurisdiction; the Circuit Courts, which were both appellate courts (hearing appeals from the District Courts) and trial courts, handling all the cases that couldn’t be tried by the District Courts; and the Supreme Court.

In 1891, Congress passed what was called the Circuits Act, which created the Courts of Appeals, but left the Circuit Courts as trial courts.1 In 1911, it dumped the Circuit Courts, made the District Courts the trial courts for all cases, and gave the first level of appellate jurisdiction to the United States Courts of Appeals for the various circuits — then nine in number.2

The D.C. Circuit was added in 1893,3 the Tenth Circuit in 1929,4 and the Eleventh Circuit in 1980, effective 1981.5 There’s one more: the Courts of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, added in 1982, which isn’t geographic but rather hears appeals from all over the country in specific types of cases (customs, claims, patents and the like).6

So the records of the Circuit Courts from 1789 until 1911 are considered trial court records, and they’re in Record Group 21, Records of the United States District Courts. You’ll find them in the specific National Archives branch that has the records for the District Courts in that state.

The records of the United States Courts of Appeals for the various circuits — in Record Group 276, Records of the United States Courts of Appeals — include appeals from the specific districts that make up that circuit.

And the records are regionalized as follows:

• Boston, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

• New York, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.

• Philadelphia, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virgin Islands.

• Philadelphia, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

• Fort Worth, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

• Chicago, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

• Chicago, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

• Kansas City, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

• San Francisco, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands.

• Denver, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming, starting in 1929. For 1911-1929, see Eighth Circuit.

• Atlanta, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, starting in 1980. For earlier records, see Fifth Circuit.

• Archives I, Washington, D.C., U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, District of Columbia.

Want to know more? The Federal Judicial Center also has a terrific history of the federal courts, and its Guide to Research in
Federal Judicial History
is a downloadable PDF.


SOURCES

  1. 26 Stat. 826 (1891).
  2. 36 Stat. 1087 (1911).
  3. 27 Stat. 434 (1893).
  4. 45 Stat. 1407 (1929).
  5. 94 Stat. 1994 (1980).
  6. See 96 Stat. 25 (1982).
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