While most experienced genealogists are familiar with the value of original court records, few are aware of the the existence of published law reports. Court records contain much valuable genealogical information, but they are often not readily accessible, they are usually unindexed, the case files may be incomplete, or, worst of all, they may not have been preserved for a particular County or jurisdiction.
Published law reports can help fill this void. Like most records used by genealogists, they were originally created for other purposes, but they can be made to yield their genealogical information to the dedicated researcher. This article will attempt to de-mystify published legal case reports for genealogists and, at the same time, present a sample of interesting cases from across Nova Scotia. The most genealogically useful cases are intra-family disputes and the settling of contested estates.
The main benefits of using published records is that they are completely indexed and readily available. The principle drawback is that the presentation of facts is often very brief, as it takes second place to the presentation of legal principles. So, the community (or sometimes even the County) of residence of the parties may not be specified. It should also be noted that the cases reported represent only a very small sample of the total actually litigated; only those decisions that raise significant legal issues will be published in the law reports.
The main source of interest to researchers will be the Nova Scotia Reports (abbreviated N.S.R.). These were first published in sixty volumes from 1834 until 1929, and again starting in 1965 to the present day. For the interm period, Nova Scotia cases were primarily reported in the Maritime Provinces Reports (M.P.R.). For the period 1906 to 1914, this coverage is supplemented by the Eastern Law Reports (E.L.R.) which also reported New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island court decisions.
It should be noted that similar law report series exist for New Brunswick (1825 to 1929, and 1969-), Ontario, and elsewhere in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. It has been my experience that the older (especially pre-1900) reports are richer in genealogically relevant detail than more recent examples.
Cases are generally identified by the names of the parties and the year. The citation is given in the form volume report page; so the report of McDonald v. McKinnon (1865), 5 N.S.R. 527 will be found in volume 5 of the Nova Scotia Reports, starting at page 527. Each volume is indexed individually. There may be several volumes published per year.
Hubley v. Hubley (1908), 4 E.L.R. 392
Kearney v. Kearney (1876), 10 N.S.R. 428
Please note that I am NOT actively researching any of these individuals or families, and so I am unable to do look-ups or provide any additional information on the persons listed here.
This document is part of the Nova Scotia Genealogy Resources Page.
Last Modified: February 6, 2016