Tracing your Legal Ancestors – Tuesday’s Tip

I’ve resisted tackling the UK legal portion of my research for some time.  At first glance, the British legal system seems like a mess of courts, divisions, and terminology which might trip up a full trained American lawyer.  Needless to say, I don’t want to phone my one an only lawyer acquaintance for genealogy assistance at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Tracing your Legal Ancestors – A Guide For Family Historians by Stephen Wade is an intensely well-written and informative guide to possibly the most difficult UK genealogical research.  For non-UK researchers, this is still an interesting read do to its clear and concise descriptions of court proceedings, legal professions, the history of legal divisions, and resources for legal genealogical research.  Although many of the examples are based in England, many of these practices were standard in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well.

What is inferior or superior court?  You can settle court questions ranging from medieval to modern, city to rural, as well as military and church cases.  I was even surprised at the the amount of information which can be found in coroner’s courts, which feature hearings on deaths (suspicious or otherwise).  I can imagine the information in those court proceedings could make for interesting reading and book material!

I don’t have any legal ancestors (that I know of), but I know some of them might have had a run-in with the law at one point or another.  For my research, I was very happy to find a large chapter dedicated specifically to the legal system and resources of Scotland and Ireland.

The contents for Tracing your Legal Ancestors – Introduction, (1) Understanding the Legal Professions, (2) Community of Lawyers, (3) The Judges and the Courts, (4) The Magistracy, (5) A Survey of Sources I, (6) A Survey of Sources II, (7) The Literature of Judiciary, (8) The Servants of the Law Machine, (9) Lawyer Ancestors in Scotland and Ireland, (10) Approaches and Methods: A Summary, (i) Glossary, (ii) Bibliography & Sources, (iii) Index

Kudos to Tracing Your Legal Ancestors author Stephen Wade for demystifying the UK legal system for genealogists!

Which brings us to the Comment/Question of the Day: What side of the legal system did your ancestors frequent? 

Leave your creative and interesting responses in the comment box below.

Don’t forget to attend the next FPLD Genealogy Club Meeting on Wednesday, September 21 at 7 p.m.  Guest speaker Robin Seidenberg will present To Tell or Not to Tell:  Should the Family Skeleton Stay in the Closet? – A genealogical discussion on whether you should disclose all your findings or breaking the news about your ancestor’s prior bad acts.  The Genealogy Club meeting will be held in Meeting Room A at the Fountaindale Public Library District, 300 W. Briarcliff Road in Bolingbrook.  This is a drop-in event, so bring a friend and dive

See You At the Library!


About Fountaindale Public Library District's Genealogy Blog

The Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Blog transmits research tips, notes, and other useful information for genealogy, family history, and local history researchers. This blog is maintained and authored by Adult and Teen Services Manager Debra M. Dudek, and contains publications and postings by Circulation Manager Theresa Hildebrand, Children's Services Assistant Cathy Gonsowski, and School Program Associate Laura Didier. The Fountaindale Public Library District offers numerous resources for the public, including books, materials, database access, a monthly genealogy club, and free programming. The Genealogy Club also offers volunteer research assistance by appointment. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the library at (630) 685-4176 or by e-mail at
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