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Continuous service since 1960.
2010 marked our Golden Anniversary!

NMGS Logo 50th

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The New Mexico Genealogical Society, founded in 1960, is composed entirely of volunteers. 2010 was our 50th year of providing research materials and networking opportunities for family historians.


The New Mexico Genealogical Society
District Courts in New Mexico Territory

Introduction by Ann L. Mossman
County detail by Al Perrin

as published in the New Mexico Genealogist, September 1996; updated June 1999.

In 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny set up a provisional government and system of laws, the "Kearny Code." The Judicial branch consisted of a three-man Superior Court. Judges served in a dual capacity. Each was a trial judge, presiding over a judicial district; together they constituted an appellate court, reviewing their individual decisions.

At the new American court's first session in Taos in April 1847, 17 men were tried for murder, 5 for high treason, and 17 for larceny. Convicted: 15 of murder, one of treason, and 6 of larceny. Every man convicted of homicide was hanged, according to Henry Weihofen. [See note 1, below]

Prior to United States occupation, the political subdivisions were those created in 1844 by the Departmental Council of Mexico which established seven counties in three districts: Taos and Rio Arriba counties in the Northern district; Santa Fe, San Miguel and Santa Ana counties in the Central district; and Bernalillo and Valencia counties in the Southeastern district. These county names were retained after the occupation of the U.S. although there were county boundary changes.

The Kearny provisional government was replaced and New Mexico became an organized United States Territory in 1851 with three judicial districts until 1887 when the fourth district was created.

Perrin's chart shows the year that each new judicial district was created, which counties were in each district, and the year the county was established. As an example, Colfax county was established in 1869 and district court records would be found in the First Judicial District, but by 1887 Colfax county is in the Fourth Judicial District, and by 1912 (statehood) it is in the Eighth Judicial District. District court records for the Territorial period are found at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, [now at 1205 Camino Carlos Rey, Santa Fe, NM., 87505 http://www.state.nm.us/cpr/.]

Inventories of the various record books, civil and criminal and docket books, are available under the counties named.

What are some of the records in the pre-statehood civil record books which may interest the genealogist?

Divorces in New Mexico are handled by the district courts.
Naturalization records are found at the district court level but may also be found in other courts of record.
Grand and petit juries and coroner's juries often show occupations and residences as well as names. You may find lists of witnesses, the dollar amount they were allowed, and sometimes their places of residence and/or the distance they had to travel to the court.

Territorial records are replete with crimes involved with gambling: betting on faro, dealing monte and permitting gaming. Horse, mule and cattle stealing, carrying arms, receiving stolen goods, holding a baile (dance) without a license, alimony and child support claims, trusteeship of lunatics, and larceny and debt. Land title disputes may involve extended families

Notes and other sources of information for this article:
  1. Weihofen, Henry: "New Mexico: The Territorial and District Courts," in The Federal Courts of the Tenth Circuit: A History, ed. Hon. James K. Logan (published by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, 1992).
  2. Examples are from civil records only; none from criminal records
  3. Coan, Charles F., A Shorter History of New Mexico, Part II, (UNM Press, 1928)
  4. Poldervaart, Arie W., "Black-Robed Justice," New Mexico Historical Review Vol. XIII (September 1948).
Additional References:
  1. Laws Passed by the General Assembly of the Territory of New Mexico, Session of December 1847.
  2. Laws of New Mexico.
  3. New Mexico Blue Book, compiled and published by the Office of the Secretary of State, Santa Fe, NM.

New Mexico Judicial Districts and Their Counties
The county detail may be viewed in two ways:
as a chart or in plain text, below.

The Judicial Districts:

In 1847 the General Assembly of the Territory of New Mexico passed an "Act Regulating the Holding of Circuit Courts." Three circuits were established: The Central, the Northern, and the Southeastern. In 1851 the Territorial Assembly approved an act dividing New Mexico into three judicial districts, which have been followed by the Fourth through Thirteenth Judicial Districts, as shown below.

  1. JD 1: established 1847. Known as the Central Circuit 1847-1851.
  2. JD 2: est. 1847. Known as the Northern Circuit 1847-1851.
  3. JD 3: est. 1847. Known as the Southeastern Circuit 1847-1851.
  4. JD 4: est. 1887.
  5. JD 5: est. 1889.
  6. JD 6: est. 1904.
  7. JD 7: est. 1909.
  8. JD 8: est. 1912.
  9. JD 9: est. 1921.
  10. JD 10: est. 1950.
  11. JD 11: est. 1961.
  12. JD 12: est. 1971.
  13. JD 13: est. 1971.
The Counties:
  • Bernalillo County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in1846 and became a U.S. Territorial county on January 8, 1852. It was in JD 3 from 1847 to 1863, and in JD 2 from 1863 to present.
  • Catron County was created February 25, 1921. It has been in JD 7 from 1921 to present.
  • Chaves County was created February 25, 1889. It has been in JD 5 from 1889 to present.
  • Cibola County was created June 19,1981. It has been in JD 13 from 1981 to present.
  • Colfax County was created January 25, 1869. It was in JD 1 from 1869-1887, in JD 4 from 1887-1912, and in JD 8 from 1912 to present.
  • Curry County was created February 25, 1909. It was in JD 5 from1909-1921 and in JD 9 from 1921 to present.
  • De Baca County was created February 28, 1917. It was in JD 5 from 1917-1921, in JD 9 from 1921-1950, and in JD 10 from 1950 to present.
  • Doña Ana County was created January 9, 1852. It has been in JD 3 from 1852 to present.
  • Eddy County was created February 25, 1889. It has been in JD 5 from 1889 to present.
  • Grant County was created January 30, 1868. It was in JD 3 from 1868-1912 and in JD6 from 1912 to present.
  • Guadalupe County was created February 26, 1891. It was in JD 4 from 1891-1904, in JD 6 1904-1912, again in JD 4 1912 to present. (This County was named Leonard Wood from 1903-1905.)
  • Harding County was created March 4, 1921. It was in JD 8 from 1921-1950, and in JD 10 from 1950 to present.
  • Hidalgo County was created February 25, 1919. It has been in JD 6 from 1919 to present.
  • Lea County was created March 7, 1917. It has been in JD 5 from 1917 to present.
  • Leonard Wood. See Guadalupe County.
  • Lincoln County was created January 16, 1869. It was in JD 2 1869-1887, JD 4 1887-1889, JD 5 1889-1904, JD 6 1904-1912, JD 3 1912-1971, and in JD 12 from 1971 to present.
  • Los Alamos County was created March 16, 1949. It has been in JD 1 from 1919 to present.
  • Luna County was created March 16, 1901. It was in JD 3 1901-1912 and in JD 6 1912 to present.
  • McKinley County was created February 23, 1899. It was in JD 2 1899-1921, JD 1 1921-1961, and JD 11 1961 to present.
  • Mora County was created February 1, 1860. It was in JD 1 from 1860-1887 and JD 4 from 1887 to present.
  • Otero County was created January 30, 1899. It was in JD 3 1899-1904, JD 6 1904-1912, JD 3 1912 to 1971, and JD 12 1971 to present.
  • Quay County was created January 28, 1903. It was in JD 4 from 1903-1904, JD 6 1904-1912, JD 8 1912-1921, JD 9 1921-1950, and JD 10 1950 to present.
  • Rio Arriba County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in1846 and became a U.S. Territorial county on January 9, 1852. It was in JD 2 from 1847-1863, and in JD 1 1863 to present.
  • Roosevelt County was created on February 28, 1903. It was in JD 5 1903-1921 and in JD 9 1921 to present.
  • San Juan County was created on January 24, 1887. It was in JD 1 1887-1961 and in JD 11 1961 to present.
  • San Miguel County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in1846 and became a U.S. Territorial county on January 9, 1852. It was in JD 1 1847-1887 and in JD 4 1887 to present.
  • Sandoval County was created on March 10, 1903. It was in JD 2 1903-1971 and JD 13 1971 to present.
  • Santa Ana County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in1846 and became a U.S. Territorial county in 1852. It was in JD 1 1847-1863, and in JD 2 1863-1876, when it was absorbed by Bernalillo County. Santa Ana County does not exist today.
  • Santa Fe County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in1846 and became a U.S. Territorial county on January 9, 1852. It has been in JD 1 from 1847 to present.
  • Sierra County was created on April 3, 1884. It was in JD 2 1884-1889, JD 3 1889-1909, and in JD 7 1909 to present.
  • Socorro County was created in July 1850. It was in JD 3 1851-1863, in JD 2 1863-1889, in JD 5 1889-1904, in JD 3 1904-1909, and in JD 7 1909 to present.
  • Taos County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in 1846. It became a U.S. Territorial county on January 9, 1852. It was in JD 2 1847-1863, in JD 1 1863-1912, and in JD 8 1912 to present.
  • Torrance County was created on March 16, 1903. It was in JD 2 1903-1904, in JD 6 1904-1909, JD 1 1909-1912, JD 3 1912-1941, and in JD 7 1941 to present.
  • Union County was created on February 13, 1893. It was in JD 4 1893-1912 and in JD 8 1912 to present.
  • Valencia County was an original Mexican partido at the time of the American occupation in 1846. It became a U.S. Territorial county on January 9, 1852. It was in JD 3 1847-1863, JD 2 1863-1909, JD 7 1909-1941, JD 2 1941-1971, and in JD 13 1971 to present.

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