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Records of the civil and criminal courts give as perfect an idea of life in a community as can well be imagined; but they are sorely underused, largely because they are poorly indexed and relatively time-consuming and difficult to access..

In New York State, the records of the county courts are filed with the County Clerk. Each county may file these records in a slightly different way, but they can richly reward anyone with the time and persistence to use them.

Court records in general consist of case files and bound volumes documenting court activities. Minute books and dockets log cases in chronological order, and usually are indexed in separate small volumes or in tabbed pages at the front of each book. They provide the only good access to case files, which are generally also filed chronologically.

Yates County has a complete set of Minute Books from County Court (which nowadays handles mostly criminal cases), Supreme Court (civil cases above a certain dollar value), plus the old Court of Common Pleas (civil), Court of Sessions (criminal) and Court of Oyer and Terminer (criminal).

Case files form an enormous volume of records in Yates County. Up through about 1950 various sets of court papers relating to lawsuits and trials were folded, tied in red tape (a red-colored cloth ribbon) and stored in stiff paper packets in a series of open metal drawers called Woodruff files. Those stored in the Archive are now in process of being removed from the packets, flattened and rehoused in acid-free envelopes and folders. At the same time they are being indexed. 

From time to time some of these indexes will be added to this site. It should be noted that Americans have always been extremely litigious, and the chances of any person completely escaping the attention of either the civil or criminal courts over a whole lifetime were very small indeed.

Indexes on line