Dockets created by the Federal Courts provide a record of when and what documents are filed in a particular case. Federal Courts include: Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, Circuit Courts, and Territorial Courts.
The Courts create a docket for each case file. Entries are added to the case docket sheet as records are filed in the case. Dockets include: case file number, party name(s), dates, and document names. They can provide a high-level overview of actions taken within a case. Additional information may be available by time period, court type, and court location. Dockets can be in a bound volume or loose sheets. They are arranged by case file type and thereunder by case file number.
Once the court dockets are 25 years or older, they are accessioned by National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) locations throughout the country as permanent archival records. For a general listing of where court records are located in the National Archives, visit https://www.archives.gov/research/court-records.
Using the National Archives Catalog to Find Dockets from the District Court, Circuit Court, and Territorial Court
Researchers can search for dockets from the District Court, Circuit Court, and Territorial Court in the National Archives Catalog (NAC). Many dockets are described in the Catalog, but not yet available for wider access in a digital format.
Search for dockets in NAC using a basic formula. All four pieces are needed.
Piece 1: Record Creator
Piece 2: Case Type
Piece 3: Record Type
Piece 4: Geographic Reference
-State and/or city of court
(Do not include the county. Omit city if results don’t yield anticipated list.)
Search input: “court civil docket” Greensboro “North Carolina”. Use quotations to keep words together, e.g., North Carolina.
Caption: Input of search terms into search bar in the National Archives Catalog
Using “Refine By: Level of Description,” on the left side, then select “series” to narrow the search results.
Caption: Search results narrowed using “Refine by: Level of Description, Series”
Click on the blue hyperlink title for more information, e.g., “Civil Dockets, 1950-1979.”
Caption: Description for the series “Civil Dockets, 1950 - 1979,” from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Greensboro Term.
Each description includes how the records are organized, what is contained in the record, and which office to contact for more information. It generally will not include a detailed listing of names or digital records. Look at the scope and content section and dates to determine if the materials would be useful in your research.
Using the National Archives Catalog to Find Dockets from the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals
Search for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals dockets in the National Archives Catalog using a basic formula. Supreme Court searches are the simplest since there is only one court and only 2 pieces for a successful search. The Court of Appeals consists of 13 large circuits, each consisting of several states. Three pieces are needed for a successful search. Many dockets are described in the Catalog, but not yet available for wider access in a digital format.
Piece 1: Record Creator
Piece 2: Record Type
Piece 3: Circuit of the Appellate Court
-”Court of Appeals”
-Numeric designation, e.g., First, Second, etc.*
*Determine the Circuit of the Court of Appeals from the U.S. Federal Courts Circuit Map. This map is accurate for cases filed after 1982. For cases filed before 1982, several circuits were added and the bounds of each changed. Questions about the U.S. Court of Appeals Circuits can be directed firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use Catalog Descriptions to Make Request
Use the email or telephone number from the description to contact the appropriate NARA office to ask staff to conduct a name search. Requests need to include:
- Your contact information;
- Link to index of interest (e.g., “Civil Index,” https://catalog.archives.gov/id/2800723); and
- Name that you would like searched
Staff will search for the index for the name and contact you with what they find and advise the next steps in the research process.
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