… Gone to Kansas City

Researching federal court records has always been a bit of a problem.

First, of course, a researcher like The Legal Genealogist needed to know what record group the National Archives of the United States had assigned the specific type of court record to.

Was it Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States?1

Or Record Group 276, Records of the United States Courts of Appeals?2

Or Record Group 267, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States?3

Or even one of the more obscure courts and record groups, like the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, in Record Group 503?

And once we figured out that part, the issue became one of geography: to locate a specific federal court record, we’d need to know which of the regional repositories of the National Archives holds the records of the specific court where the case was filed and heard.

You might think, for example, that the archival records of the Alexandria Division of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia would be in the main National Archives building known as Archives I in downtown Washington, D.C. After all, if you stood on the roof of the Archives I building, you could see the rooftops of the buildings in Alexandria across the Potomac River.

Nope.

The archival records from that trial-level court are in the National Archives-Philadelphia — that’s where you’ll find the archival records of the United States District Courts from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.4

So it’s always been a bit of a challenge finding the records.

And now… sigh… now it’s going to be a bit harder.

Because it’s no longer possible to go to — say — the National Archives in New York and access all the federal court records for New York.

Once upon a time you could pretty much do just that. It didn’t matter what kind of case it was or which of the federal courts had handled the case, both the trial record and the appellate up to (but not including) the Supreme Court would be there in one place.5

Then the National Archives decided that it would move all of one kind of trial court record — the bankruptcy records — to the National Archives regional repository in Kansas City.6

That meant that some trial court records would be spread around in the regional repositories. And some would be in Kansas City. If there was a research issue, then, that required looking at a bankruptcy case filed in the Southern District of New York and a related civil case in the same district, you’d have to get the records from two different places: the first case record would be at NARA-Kansas City and the second one at NARA-New York City. But the records of any appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit would be at NARA-New York City.

Then the National Archives decided that it would move the appeals court records to the National Archives regional repository in Kansas City.7

Going

But not all of them, at least not yet.

So finding an appeals court record is going to mean knowing which cases have been transferred to Kansas City, and which haven’t.

As of today, records of the following United States Courts of Appeals have been transferred:

• 1st Circuit (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island), from NARA-Boston;

• 2d Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont), from NARA-New York City;

• 3d Circuit (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands), from NARA-Philadelphia;

• 4th Circuit (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia), from NARA-Philadelphia;

• 10th Circuit (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming), from NARA-Denver;

• 11th Circuit (Alabama, Georgia, and Florida), from NARA-Atlanta; and

• D.C. Circuit (District of Columbia), from NARA Archives I.

Records of the 8th Circuit (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) were already housed in Kansas City.

That leaves records of the 5th Circuit (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) still at NARA-Fort Worth. Records of the 6th Circuit (Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee) and 7th Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) are still at NARA-Chicago. And records of the 9th Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington) are still at NARA-San Francisco (San Bruno).

According to Lori Cox-Paul, Director of Archival Operations at the National Archives at Kansas City, “the process of relocating RG 276 holdings from archival units across the country to Kansas City … will take several more years to complete.”

And … sigh… none of this is yet recorded in any of the finding aids on the National Archives website.

So be prepared to be patient and careful in researching federal court records these days.

Finding those records isn’t easy.

Because some of them are going and some of them are gone.

To Kansas City, at least.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Going, going…,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 13 Nov 2019).

SOURCES

  1. See “Records of District Courts of the United States,” Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 13 Nov 2019).
  2. See ibid., “Records of the United States Courts of Appeals.”
  3. See ibid., “Records of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
  4. See “National Archives Court Records,” Research Our Records, National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 13 Nov 2019).
  5. Records of the U.S. Supreme Court have always been held at the National Archives main facility in Washington, D.C. See “Records of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 13 Nov 2019).
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “Chasing those bankruptcy files,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 25 Aug 2017 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 13 Nov 2019).
  7. See “Move of Records of the U.S. Court of Appeals (Record Group 276),” What’s New for Researchers, Research Our Records, National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 13 Nov 2019).
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