District court records are arranged by the county in which the case action took place and are organized by records series (for example: case files, registers of actions, judgment books, and minutes).
Civil cases: disputes between private citizens, governmental bodies, businesses, and organizations.
They may concern:
In a civil case, one or more plaintiffs bring an action by filing a summons and complaint, a document detailing the nature of the complaint and summoning one or more defendants to the court to answer to the complaint. Both sides may present evidence before a judge or jury. The judge or jury will render a judgment deciding the merits of the case. Frequently, this judgment will result in the award of monetary payments to one party.
Criminal cases: concern allegations that an individual, business, or corporation has committed a crime by breaking a law.
They may concern:
The government (usually the state but in the past, occasionally a city, village, or county) brings the action and acts as the plaintiff. The accused is the defendant. The case usually begins with an indictment, which might have been issued by a grand jury or asked for by a county attorney. Each party may present evidence before a judge or jury, which then renders a verdict or sentence.
Plaintiff/Defendant Indexes to Case Files:
Registers of Actions
The first step in using district court records is to determine in which county a specific action occurred.
Search the library catalog by county name for district court records at MNHS.
Example: "Otter Tail County District Court"
Most district court records at MNHS are open to unrestricted use. Certain categories of civil case files, especially adoption files less than 100 years old and some paternity case files, have restricted access and special access procedures. The staff of the library can assist patrons with these special conditions.
Some counties have retained case files relating to specific types of legal actions, regardless of the date. This means that they are not available at the Minnesota Historical Society and researchers must inquire with the county court administrator or records office about access. The most notable instance of this is the Hennepin County District Court. It retained files dealing with family matters (including adoption and divorce), land, city charters, probate court appeals, and trusts, and destroyed many files dealing with miscellaneous money judgments.
To order a court record fill out the order form on the Court Case Search Request page at our online store. Please include any and all information you have about the record you are looking for.