Nineteenth Century Supreme Court Records

The Supreme Court of Ohio originated with Ohio's 1802 constitution. Initially, two judges appointed by the Ohio General Assembly traveled to individual counties where terms were held once each year. Later, four judges traveled the circuit, but only two were necessary for a quorum. In heavily populated counties two or three terms might be held annually. Also, a general term was held annually at the capital with all judges present. This was known as the Court "In Bank"

Cases heard by Ohio Supreme Court judges included suits involving more than $1,000, appeals of Common Pleas Court cases originating in their jurisdictions, and capital punishment cases. After 1825, county Common Pleas Courts tried capital punishment cases at their discretion. The Ohio Supreme Court also held exclusive jurisdiction over divorce and alimony cases through 1844. Its decisions were not subject to review. The Supreme Court also had the power to issue a change of venue in cases where they believed a fair trial could not be obtained in the originating county. On occasion, brief records of naturalizations appear, just as in any other state or federally authorized court of record. This system continued until the court system was altered by the Ohio Constitution of 1851. Its successor was the District Court, which existed until 1883. 

Records, journals, and dockets dealing with cases heard by the Ohio Supreme Court are generally found in the Clerk of Courts office of each county. Many counties have placed their records in the eight regional network research centers, as has Sandusky County (Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University). Only the index remains in the Clerk of Court's office. The Ohio Historical Society has microfilmed many county Ohio Supreme Court records. 

For genealogists, perhaps the most important cases heard before the Ohio Supreme Court during this period were those involving divorce. Divorce petitions could be filed for adultery, desertion, impotence, bigamy, and extreme cruelty. Later, imprisonment for violations of Ohio criminal laws and/or other state and territorial laws comparable to Ohio's was added. In 1840, gross neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness for three years, and fraudulent contract were grounds for divorce. 

After divorce cases were removed from the Ohio Supreme Court's jurisdiction in 1844, each county’s Chancery Court handled the suits until it was abolished as a result of the 1851 constitutional changes. Divorce actions that took place after the close of each county's Chancery Court will be found in the Clerk of Courts office of the Common Pleas Court to the present time. 

The first term of the Ohio Supreme Court held in Sandusky County, Ohio, began on July 30, 1823 at the log schoolhouse at the corner of Croghan and Park Streets in Fremont (then called Lower Sandusky). Court was held at this location for the next three to four years. Judge Charles R. Sherman, father of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Judge Jacob Burnet, previously United States Senator and historian of Cincinnati, were the presiding judges. 

Judge Sherman was head of a commission to establish Sandusky County's seat of justice. The commission’s decision ended the dispute between Croghansville (east side of the Sandusky River) and Lower Sandusky (west side of the Sandusky River) as to which town would prevail as the county seat. The commission proclaimed Lower Sandusky as the county seat. After Sherman's reading of the commission's report in May 1822, the court moved from the Morris Newman Tavern in Croghansville to the log schoolhouse located in Lower Sandusky on the west side of the Sandusky River.