Massachusetts Superior Court Files, 1859-1959 (ICPSR 7776)

Principal Investigator(s): Hindus, Michael S.; Hammett, Theodore M.; Hobson, Barbara M.


This dataset contains data about case records created between 1859-1959 in the Massachusetts Superior Court (and its predecessors) for two Massachusetts counties. Part 1 contains data for 1,952 criminal cases with 52 descriptive variables, including: type of crime, year crime was committed, pleas, sentences, appeals, size of file, and demographic characteristics of victim and defendant (e.g., gender, status, residence, and occupation). Eighteen variables describe and rate each case's historical interest. Part 2 contains data on 1,968 civil (law, equity, and divorce) cases, with 82 descriptive variables, such as: relationship between parties, type of complaint, relief sought, disposition, relief granted, number of claims, damages awarded, size of file, and demographic characteristics of plaintiff and defendant (e.g., gender, status, residence, and occupation). Ten variables describe and rate each case's historical interest. In both data files, criteria for historical interest coding include: (1) inherent interest, such as offenses that are not routine (e.g., white-collar crimes, sexual crimes, and serious felonies), parties who are inherently interesting (e.g., famous persons, institutional defendants, and law enforcement personnel), and legal proceedings that are inherently interesting (e.g., alleged violations of prosecutorial or judicial discretion), (2) contexts that are inherently interesting, and (3) extraordinary documentation, such as those that shed light on the legal system (e.g., pardons or letters from citizens' committees), shed light on social history (e.g., the testimony of a woman who moved to the city and inadvertently ended up in a brothel), provide legal/procedural information (e.g., the details of search or a technical challenge to an indictment), and describe public or political history (e.g., milk inspection or zoning laws).

Access Notes

  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.


DS0:  Study-Level Files
DS1:  Criminal Cases - Download All Files (4.434 MB)
ASCII + SAS Setup    SPSS Setup    Stata Setup   
DS2:  Civil Cases - Download All Files (4.762 MB)
ASCII + SAS Setup    SPSS Setup    Stata Setup   

Study Description


Hindus, Michael S., Theodore M. Hammett, and Barbara M. Hobson. Massachusetts Superior Court Files, 1859-1959. ICPSR07776-v2. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2010-05-14.

Persistent URL:

Export Citation:

  • RIS (generic format for RefWorks, EndNote, etc.)
  • EndNote XML (EndNote X4.0.1 or higher)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    civil law, convictions (law), court cases, courtroom proceedings, courts, criminal justice system, criminal law, disposition (legal), lawsuits, legal systems, nineteenth century, political history, social history, trials, twentieth century

Geographic Coverage:    Massachusetts, United States

Time Period:   

  • 1859--1959

Universe:    Massachusetts Superior Court cases between 1959-1969.

Data Type(s):    administrative records data


Sample:    (1) Random sampling was used to code the case files by means of computer-generated random docket numbers. (2) Stratified probability sampling was employed by choosing equal numbers of cases from ten evenly spaced cohort years. The sample was comprised of 1,968 civil (law, equity, and divorce) cases and 1,952 criminal cases from Suffolk and Hampshire Counties in Massachusetts. Cases were drawn from only two counties in order to have numbers from each type and cohort year adequate to yield meaningful results. Suffolk, an urban county, and Hampshire, a rural county, were chosen because they represent two basic kinds of environments in which court business might differ. Civil cases were separated from criminal cases because they represented qualitatively different sorts of entities.

Data Source:

criminal and civil court records, files, and docket books

Extent of Processing:   ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Created variable labels and/or value labels.


Original ICPSR Release:   1984-03-18

Version History:

  • 2010-05-14 SAS, SPSS, and Stata setups have been added to this data collection.
  • 2006-01-18 File CB7776.PDF was removed from any previous datasets and flagged as a study-level file, so that it will accompany all downloads.

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