Louisiana Court Records
This entry was originally written by Beth A. Stahr, CGRS and Sharon Sholars Brown for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Under the French regime provincial power was held by the governor and the superior council, while the cabildo, or council, served the Spanish. A group of men was appointed to serve on the council who acted in a manner similar to a court of law but did not have the power of legislature. Most of the records created by, or sent to, the cabildo are still in New Orleans and are part of four collections:
Superior Council Records. Housed at the Mint Building in New Orleans, this collection, from the French period, is an important resource for families in all corners of the colony. The files contain not only the judicial records of the city of New Orleans, but also those of all the outposts whose cases were appealed to New Orleans. Translated and very brief abstracts of these records were serialized in volumes 1-23 of the Louisiana Historical Quarterly.
Spanish Judicial Archives. This is a group of legal suits prosecuted at the various settlements and sent to New Orleans for final disposition in the Spanish era. These records are located in the Louisiana State Museum in the Old U.S. Mint Building at New Orleans. Between 1923 and 1949, translated abstracts of these records were published in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly.
Black Boxes. This is another Spanish collection housed at the Louisiana State Museum. Americans acquired these documents in 1803 and packed them away in black wooden boxes, hence the name. The museum has translated abstracts to these records, and a guide to this collection was printed over several years in the quarterly New Orleans Genesis.
Minutes of the Cabildo. These are the records created by the Spanish governing body. Translations of these documents are available at most major libraries (public and university) in Louisiana. Some of the original records belonging to this collection can be found at the New Orleans Public Library, Tulane University, and Louisiana State University.
For a better understanding of the court system and its laws of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, see Albert Tate Jr., “The Splendid Mystery of the Civil Code of Louisiana,” Louisiana Review 2, no. 2 (1974). See also Coleman Lindsey, The Courts of Louisiana (n.p., n.d.). To conduct genealogical research in the parish courthouse, it is necessary to know that the clerk of court’s office has most of the records needed: notarial, marriage, divorce, will, succession, deeds, civil suits, discharge papers, and so on.