Problems/Solutions

Searching in the mud files is not without its challenges and problems. Chief among them is the sheer complexity of the civil court system in Orleans Parish. This presentation has been made permanent here in our web site as an aid to sorting out some of the tangles of the multitude of courts. We have also begun (and will continue) to create detailed finding aids to the records of individual courts, explaining their origin and function and describing the types of records that have survived. And example of such a finding aid can be found here. Others are linked in the Civil Courts section of the Archival Inventories page in NUTRIAS.

Problems can also be created by the extremely fragile condition of some of the records. The time-honored method of combatting this problem is to create preservation microfilm copies of the records. The master preservation negatives are stored and research copies made available for public access to the records. Use of the microfilm prevents further damage and preserves the information in a relatively permanent and useable medium. It is also easy to produce multiple copies of microfilmed records, making it possible for researchers to read microfilmed records far away from the repository holding the original documents.

The "genealogically significant" suit records in the civil court records (and some of the accompanying documentation such as minute books, deed books, or judicial record books) have been filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. The GSU filmed probate records, marriages, emancipations, interdictions--any records that show evidence of a family line. Perhaps 25% of the civil court records have been filmed. Copies of the films may be ordered from any Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Family History Center. More about microfilm will be found here.

The records that have not been filmed must be handled with care. Unfilmed suit records are still filed in the tri-folded bundles used by the court clerks. Before they can be viewed, the records must be placed in a humdification chamber for at least 24 hours in order to introduce moisture into the brittle paper and reduce the inevitable cracking as the pages are unfolded. Therefore, researchers using unfilmed records must plan ahead since the records will not be available on demand. In rare circumstances, the records may be in such fragile condition that access to them will be denied. Once the records are flattened, they are not refolded but stored upright in acid-free folders.

When they were available, the manuscript indexes to suit records created by the clerks of each court were filmed by the GSU. For some of the earlier courts, however, no indexing survived. Gradually, the City Archives staff and volunteers have recreated indexes for several of the courts; as we create these indexes, we are making them available in NUTRIAS. Among these indexes is the index to the Parish Court.

Another difficulty in using the civil court records is that early courts' proceedings were often conducted in languages other than English--namely in Spanish or, more usually, in French. If you don't read these languages, however, you can take heart--an English version of some documents may be included in the suit record or there may be other documents in English which contain some of the data found in the French versions. And you can, as a last resort, hire a translator or maybe try out BabelFish, a free online translation "on demand" service.


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