Genealogists researching Louisiana ancestry are fortunate to have many original manuscripts available from the 18th century. These include documents from New Orleans’ French Superior Council (1714-1769) and the Spanish Judicial Records (1769-1803). The documents provide a rich source of data on New Orleans’s earliest days, the Louisiana territory, the slave trade, and Native American relations, the Atlantic World, and Canada and the Caribbean, among other topics.
Access to these documents is a bit of an issue, however. The 220,000 pages of handwritten French and Spanish documents are stored in the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans. Unfortunately, not everyone can travel to New Orleans and view the original documents during the hours the State Museum is open. Through various translations, English-language abstracts, and published summaries in Louisiana Historical Society’s journal, The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, the contents of the collection are partially accessible in print but difficult to use. The documents were not available online until recently and even today only part of the collection may be viewed online.
The Louisiana State Museum’s web site states: “According to Museum records, the colonial archives were microfilmed three times between the 1940s and 1980s, but only the most recent effort, by the LDS, is accessible today. In addition to the usual difficulties associated with reading microfilmed manuscripts, there is another problem: the microfilm reflects the current physical arrangement, which for the most part is strictly chronological – this is not the original order of the archives, in which each individual succession’s papers were kept together as a single file, regardless of the various dates or years in which they were created. Now, using the database’s search functions, any succession’s documents can be pulled together once more.”