Term Papers, also known as Judgments, are loose court papers generated by the locality during a specific court session (month/year). Typically, these records were tri-folded and wrapped in bundles with no attempt made by the clerk to differentiate among the various record types within a bundle. Therefore, a bundle could include civil suits, criminal papers, bonds, commissions and oaths, business records, coroner’s inquests, election records, grand jury lists, health and medical records, justice of the peace records, public official accounts, overseer of the poor records, road and bridge records, tax and fiscal records as well as other miscellaneous records.
The majority of term papers deal with civil suits. These civil suits usually involved matters of debt and were heard by a jury on the “law” side of the court as opposed to the “chancery” side. Information generally found in a judgment case includes the name of the plaintiff/creditor, name of defendant/debtor, the amount owed with interest, and the dates on which the case was heard. Because docketing information and statements that explain the case may be written in various places, researchers should examine the front and back of all documents.
Learn more about Judgments from the Library of Virginia.
Although term papers are not as rich a source of genealogical information as chancery suits, they do offer a tremendous amount of research potential. They provide a great deal of information concerning the activities and interests of the people who lived in the locality. Since the vast majority of term papers relate to financial matters, they are a valuable resource in studying the economic and social history of Virginia localities. For example: Why did people go into debt? To purchase needs or luxuries? To whom were they predominantly indebted? Individuals or businesses? Why could they not repay their debt? Depressed economic conditions or poor financial management?