New Orleans Public Library has been the officially mandated archives for the City of New Orleans since 1946. As such, we collect and preserve city records of permanent value, and our collection includes records as far back as 1769 and as recent as today.
The civil court records, of course, are not city records; the civil courts were established by state, not city, law. But in the early 1970s, when the Clerk of Civil District Court needed space in the court house, a chain of events was set into motion that led eventually to the deposit of the court records at NOPL.
There are several good reasons for our selection as depository for these records. First, the Louisiana Division, where the records are housed, had long experience in dealing with archival material and had established a solid professional reputation within the New Orleans archival and research community. Second, the judges of Civil District Court wished to keep the records in New Orleans rather than to send them out of town to the State Archives in Baton Rouge. And, finally, NOPL's physical proximity to the Civil Court building--just across Duncan Plaza--meant that the records would indeed remain close to their original home. Thus, the historic civil court records--everything from 1804 to 1926--came to the Louisiana Division in a series of deposits beginning in 1974. We continue to work hard to preserve these precious documents and to make them readily available to researchers.
The remainder of this presentation will concentrate on the structure and history of the local court system, the genealogical significance of the civil court records, and problems surrounding use of the records and some of the solutions we have devised to deal with those problems.