Tag Archives: crime

Using Newspapers: Crime Reports

Often there are “splashy” front page articles about criminal happenings in town or nationwide. Those headlines sell papers, even today. Beyond the front page, there might be information in the crime reports that is important to your research.

“Important Criminal Cases,” Semi-Weekly Louisianan, 17 September 1871, p. 1, col. 6. 

If your ancestor was in trouble with the law, they might show up in news articles such as the one above. If your ancestor was a lawyer, or judge, or worked in the jail, or was a policeman. What if your ancestor was murdered? These articles might be of interest.

Granted, there’s not a lot of information provided, mostly names and what they were charged with. However, it also states that these cases are pending in the First District Court in Louisiana. Most of the time, you will not find court records such as these digitized and available online. From home, how would you know where to look for the court records if it weren’t for news articles such as these? These can work like a substitute index when trying to locate court records.

You may be able to locate finding aids online, such as these from the City Archives New Orleans Public Library. They cover Suit and Case Records, 1846-1880 which are manuscript records of the proceedings in the civil suits and criminal cases filed before the First District Court. Their description states that…

“Individual criminal case records will contain some, but probably not all, of these documents (some cases, however, can contain little other than the indictment and final verdict):

  • indictment or affidavit–the criminal equivalent of the initial petition in a civil suit. It will set forth the specifics of the criminal conduct that caused the matter to be brought before the Court. On the reverse there will usually be recorded information on arraignment, final verdict or other disposition, and sentencing. 
  • Police reports 
  • Copy of Cornoner’s inquest 
  • Testimony and/or statements of witnesses, the accused, and police officers 
  • Bonds (bail and/or appeal) 
  • Documents from lower courts 
  • Motions, exceptions, and other pleadings filed by the attorney representing the accouses and/or by the District Attorney 
  • Orders, jury charges, and other rulings by the judge 
  • Jury lists 
  • Witness lists 
  • Arrest warrants 
  • Subpoenas 
  • Appeals and related documents 
  • Other documents may also be included.”

There are so many records not available online. I look forward to the days when I can visit the repositories again. Until then, I’m keeping up on my “pre-research” and making lists of the repositories to visit and what to look for when I’m there.