Using Record Copies


27 February 2014

Many of the "original" court records we consult at the city and county level are "record copies," rather than "true originals." Historically, attorneys presented the court with individual documents relevant to the case at hand. The court clerk then filed these in packets. Some items of particular significance from a legal standpoint would be copied into record books. Copying errors did happen in the creation of those "record copies."

Many of those original packets still survive in the offices or archives of the court clerks. As thorough researchers and careful analysts we always seek the originals whenever we find relevant materials in local "record books," to ensure that we are using the most-reliable version of the record. As a legal and practical matter, record copies that are officially created and maintained by public record offices are treated as "original" records, when the actual original is not known to exist.

Conversely, even when the original packets exist, we should also consult the record copies. All too often, papers originally filed in the packets have grown legs and walked off across the years. We might never know that they once existed, short of finding them in the clerk’s record copy books.

EE's Chapter 8 offers much more guidance in the use of local court records. Several sample pages from this chapter are online at