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State of Louisiana
Court Records Research

Louisiana Court records cover a wide range of genealogy topics that can help you in your research, including land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalizations. Since Louisiana court records cover such a wide variety of subjects, they can help you in many different ways. For example, they may help you locate ancestors' residences, determine occupations, find financial information, establish citizenship status, or clarify relationships between people. It all depends on the type of court records that your ancestors" names appear in. For Definitions of all court trems see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.

Louisiana Court Records

The superior council and the governor of the province ruled the area when the French were in control. The council, also called the cabildo, ruled the area when the Spanish were in control. That council was made up of a group of men, but they didn't have any real legislative powers, despite being organized like a court of law. Many of the cabildo records are in the following 4 different collections in the city of New Orleans.

Superior Council Records - These records can be found in the Mint Building and were taken when New Orleans was under French control. Outposts that appealed court cases to New Orleans had records that were stored in this collection, along with other judicial records for the majority of New Orleans itself.

Spanish Judicial Archives - During the Spanish era, these documents were recorded whenever lawsuits were sent to New Orleans for their final judgment process. Translations of abstracts of those records were published from 1923 to 1949 in Louisiana Historical Quarterly. The records can now be found at the Old U.S. Mint Building at New Orleans, which is part of the Louisiana State Museum.

Black Boxes - This collection, also located at the Louisiana State Museum, was acquired by the United States in 1803. The New Orleans Genesis quarterly printed several of the records, and the museum has also translated many abstracts from them.

Minutes of the Cabildo - The Spanish government created these records. Most of the Louisiana universities and public libraries have translations of these records available. The Louisiana State University, New Orleans Public Library, and Tulane University hold some of the original records.

The clerk of court's office at each parish courthouse holds most records that researchers would be looking for at the courthouse, including: Notarial, Marriage, Divorce, Will, Succession, Deeds, Civil Suits, Discharge Papers.

Louisiana Land Records

In 1803, the United States obtained 544 million acres of land in the Louisiana Purchase. That land, which belonged to France at the time, was sold to the United States for the incredibly low price of three cents for each acre. It was one of the best real estate deals ever made.

On March 26, 1804, Congress passed an act that split Louisiana into Orleans Territory and Louisiana Territory. Areas over 33 degrees latitude were in Louisiana Territory and areas below (where the state of Louisiana now is) were in Orleans Territory. The legislative council, headed by the governor, split Orleans Territory into the following counties at that time: Acadia, Attakapas, Concordia, German Coast, Iberville, Lafourche, Natchitoches, Opelousas, Orleans, Ouachita, Pointe Coupee, Rapides.

The territory was divided into 19 counties in 1807, using the old Spanish ecclesiastical boundary lines. The state constitution, which was enacted in 1812 at the time of statehood being gained, referenced parishes, as well as counties. In 1845 the new drafting of the state constitution removed references to counties. That made Louisiana the only state to exclusively use the parish system.

On march 2, 1805, a Congressional act was passed. That act contained the following three major provisions:

Provision one let people legally acquire or possess land. That also led to the creation of land registers in each district. New Orleans became home to a United States District Land Office. Another was opened at Opelousas to divide the western lands in Orleans Territory. Greensburg, Ouachita, and Natchitoches later became home to land offices as well. Land can still be identified according to those districts today.

The second provision stated that those who had land grants from Great Britain, French, or Spain had to present proof of their ownership of the land to a board of commissioners. If approved, offices in Washington D.C. recorded proof of that ownership.

The third provision state that vacant public lands were to be subdivided by surveyors. Those surveyors created a meridian as a base line by 1807. At that point, a system of sections, townships, and ranges replaced the existing system of metes and bounds that had been used to measure plots of land previously.

Many of the Louisiana parishes still hold colonial grants. Others can be found in England, France, and Spain. Lands that were re-patented are listed in "American State Papers: Documents Legislative and Executive of the United States, 32 vols., Public Lands, 7 volumes."

Federal and state tract books with listings of original owners of lands can be found in parish courthouses in the offices of the clerks, as well as in the state land office. Researchers should note that the Baton Rouge State Land Office must be contacted for the exact land record, or the record may be obtained by contacting the Bureau of Land Management's National Archives Division. Researchers should also note that record books are not generally organized alphabetically.

Deeds and notarial records may also hold land records. A notary public existed in each of the early settlement areas. It was the notary public's job to create and notarize estate papers, deeds, wills, and marriage contracts. Each of those transactions was given a number and recorded in "loose papers." Parish courthouse clerk offices in each parish now hold a large amount of those records. Some can also be found in Baton Rouge, at the Louisiana State Archives. The Civil Courts Building, which is located in the city of New Orleans, is home to the Notarial Archives of New Orleans. Conveyance books in the various courthouses may also contain records with useful genealogical information.

Louisiana Probate Records

Wills were not often filed in Louisiana's early days, but some were. If there was a will, it lists the succession of the estate. That information can be quite useful to researchers. For example, a documentation of the family meeting to discuss the estate may be included. That document may lists minors and heirs, names of those attending the meeting, ages of minors involved in the meeting, and relationships to the person of interest. Maiden names of widows, names of spouses, and other information may also be given. A succession may also list debts owed by the deceased, debts owed to the deceased, and personal property owned by the deceased. A property appraisal may also be included.

In cases where heirs are unknown, the document is known as a "vacant succession." Missing heirs may be identified by acquaintances of the deceased, or they may verify that no heirs exist. In cases where heirs do exist, they must be located before the succession can be closed. That can lead to a large collection of ancestral information. Louisiana parish succession records can be found in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library (FHL) on microfilm.

Louisiana Tax Records

Most Tax lists no longer exist in Louisiana, but those that are extant are usually found in the various parish tax assessor's office. Many researchers overlook Louisiana tax records, but they can be a valuable source of information. Many things in Louisiana were taxed, including property, livestock, and slaves. Some have even used tax documents to replace missing census records. In fact, tax lists can be used to find certain pieces of land, study entire neighborhoods, or establish relationships between individuals of the time period. Although many tax lists have been lost or destroyed over the years, some can still be found at parish courthouses in the office of the tax assessor.

Louisiana Immigration Records

Leading up tot he start of the Civil War, New Orleans was a major port of immigration. Several European immigrants came to the region in the 1800s before moving to the Midwest. NARA has microfilmed New Orleans passenger lists from 1820 to 1902 and from 1900 to 1945.

Indexes of passenger lists are incomplete. Some passenger lists have been lost entirely over the years. However, many passenger lists from 1813 to 1870 have been microfilmed by the Works Projects Administration (WPA). They created a 7-volume collection, which can now be found in New Orleans at the Louisiana State Museum Historical Center.

NARA's offices in Washington, D.C. hold volumes 1-4 and 6. NARA series M2009 consists of volumes 1-3. The National Archives also has microfilmed copies of some State Department Abstracts and Quarterly Abstracts on file. Passenger lists from the 1800s can also be found at the New Orleans Public Library.

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