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in the New Orleans Public Library's Louisiana Division & City Archives     

          Orleans Parish   C I V I L   C O U R T   Records

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Appendix A: Ordering By Mail
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Appendix D: Orleans Parish Civil Courts

Probate & Succession | Indexes | Emancipations | Separation/Divorce | Other Judicial Proceedings

The City Archives houses, on deposit from the Civil District Court, all records of the Orleans Parish civil courts from 1804 through 1926. Among the Civil Court records are such genealogically valuable documents as wills, probate/succession records, and divorce proceedings. The Genealogical Society of Utah has microfilmed all records in these categories.

Note: A detailed explanation of the Orleans Parish Court system can be found in Appendix D.

Probate and Succession Records

Perhaps the most important court records for purposes of genealogy are probate and succession records, documenting the disposition of the property left by deceased persons. (If the deceased left a will, the estate went into probate; if there was no will, the estate went into intestate succession.)

Antebellum succession records for white and free black property owners give date of death, reference to at least some heirs, and sometimes much more information. Some successions, for example, provide considerable detail on the expenses made on behalf of the deceased's estate, including in at least some cases data on moneys spent for the care of individual slaves. Estate inventories include lists of slaves held by the deceased. Post-bellum records will include all races, though racial designation will not be shown.

Since 1804, three courts have handled probate and succession matters in Orleans Parish:

Court of Probates (1805-1846)
Second District Court (1846-1880)
Civil District Court Docket 1 (1880-present)

Note: From 1846-1853, Second District Court shared probate jurisdiction with the First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth District Courts.


Indexes to Probate and Succession Records

Court of Probates (1805-1846) [LouR 929.3 O71 v. 1]
The Court of Probates did not use a docket number system for probate matters, but filed successions and inventories in a alphabetical/chronological arrangement, which the index reflects. The published index to these records is first arranged into alphabetical letter sections and then by year of succession. If a name is listed within a given year, then a succession [mf VCH280] record was opened for the named individual. If the deceased left a will, the index refers to it by volume and page number of the separate Will Books [mf vrd410]. If there is an inventory [mf VCH160] of the deceased's estate, the index records the year that it was made.

  This index has been transcribed and is available (in a simple alphabetical arrangement) online at neworleanspubliclibrary.org/inv/probates/probias.htm.

The Court of Probates also handled suits related to contested matters before the court. [mf VCH282] This series of records (1823-1845) is arranged by docket number.

  An index to this series is available online at neworleanspubliclibrary.org/inv/probates/probate.htm

  A separate index to inventories of estates (1803-1877), extending into the next court system, is also available online at neworleanspubliclibrary.org/inv/estates/estates.htm.

  The wills and successions in the Court of Probates have been digitized and are now available, free of charge, at FamilySearch.org. (The successions have been cataloged generically as "Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Estate Files, 1804-1846." The wills continue to 1920. The inventories of estates have also been digitized but are not yet available online.)
LINK HERE to go directly to the successions
LINK HERE to go directly to the wills.

Note: In order to see the images, you must first create a Family Search account and sign in to the site. This account is FREE.

Second District Court (1846-1880) [LouR 929.3 O71 v. 2]
This volume is arranged alphabetically with the docket numbers of the individual succession records [mf VSB290] listed alongside. As a rule, estate inventories were filed with the succession records after 1846.

  The index to the successions in Second District Court has been transcribed and is available online at neworleanspubliclibrary.org/inv/2dc/2dcsuccession.htm.

Note: Beginning in 1846, all succession records, both probates and intestate proceedings, are listed and filed together and there is no longer a master index to wills. You must consult the record to determine whether or not the deceased left a will; if there was a will, you should search the index in the Will Book [mf VRD410] covering the year of the deceased's death.

  The wills and successions in the Second District Court have been digitized and are now available, free of charge, at FamilySearch.org. (Successions prior to 1851 are only partially available online at this time. The wills continue to 1920. The inventories of estates for this time period have also been digitized but are not yet available online.)
LINK HERE to go directly to the successions
LINK HERE to go directly to the wills.

Note: In order to see the images, you must first create a Family Search account and sign in to the site. This account is FREE.

First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth District Courts (1846-1853) [Filed under mf VSG300; item 7]
From 1846-1853, successions could be filed in these courts as well as in the Second District Court [VSA290, VSC290, VSD290, VSE290].

  The index to successions in these courts is available online at neworleanspubliclibrary.org/inv/succes1.htm.

Civil District Court (1880-1926) [LouR 929.3 O71 v. 3 and 4; mf VT350ai]
Published indexes to successions [VT290] filed in Civil District Court are available for the years 1880-1903 only. Beyond that period, microfilms of the manuscript indexes to the Succession Docket (Docket 1) must be consulted [VT350ai]. Wills continue to be indexed at the beginning of each of the Will Books.

Indexes for Non-Probate Civil Court Records

Published indexes to civil court records are available only for probate/succession records. Researchers interested in accessing other types of court proceedings must use microfilm copies of the original manuscript indexes prepared by the court clerks when the suits themselves were filed. Generally, such indexes are available for the post-1835 period only [Filed under call number mf V__ 350i].

  The extant general docket books and the plaintiffs' and defendants' indices for the Commercial Court, the Parish Court, the First Judicial District Court, and the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh District Courts have been digitized and are available FamilySearch.org. You must create an account with FamilySearch in order to view the images, but the account is free. LINK HERE to access the images.

  The Archives staff, assisted by a number of volunteers, has "reconstructed" indexes to the surviving suit records from the City Court, County Court, Parish Court (1813-1835 only), the First Judicial District Court (1813-1835 only), and the Superior Court and has made them available online at neworleanspubliclibrary.org/inv/courts.htm.

In addition, the original minute books (or, for Civil District Court, the Judicial Record Books) for many of the courts have also been filmed. Minute books can be useful in finding reference to court proceedings of interest, especially when indexes are not available for a particular court for a given time period.


Emancipation Records

This category of court proceedings relates to the emancipation of minors, rather than of slaves. (See the section on Slavery, Free People of Color, and Freedmen for slave emancipations.) In Louisiana minors above the age of eighteen but not yet legally adults sometimes came into the possession of property, often through succession. In order for minors to be able to handle their own property, state law provided for judicial emancipation . Records of emancipation proceedings usually include the names of the minor and parent(s), the age and/or date of birth of the minor, and some statement of the reasons for requesting emancipation. The earliest emancipation records appear to have been filed in the Parish Court [mf VCP], but some also exist in the files of the First Judicial District Court [mf VMA]. After 1846 emancipations were filed in the Second District Court [mf VSB] and, after 1880, in Docket 1 of Civil District Court [mf VT].


Records of Separation and/or Divorce

During the territorial period separation proceedings were heard in the City Court [VH Unfilmed]. After 1812, the Parish Court [mf VCP] took over such jurisdiction and in 1827 became responsible for divorce proceedings as well. After 1846, the Third District Court [mf VSC] assumed jurisdiction for separation and divorce. Beginning in 1880 such matters were entered on Docket 5 of Civil District Court [mf VT]. It should be noted, however, that prior to 1845, divorces could be granted only by legislative act.

There are also suits in which married women whose husbands had abandoned them were required to gain court approval before entering into any number of contractual agreements. Even married women whose husbands were present often needed their approval before being allowed to buy or sell property, etc. Virtually any court proceeding involving a married woman, therefore, might involve documentation bearing on her marital situation.


Records of Other Judicial Proceedings

Generally, the record series listed above are the only judicial proceedings useful for genealogical purposes. Most other civil court cases involve damage claims between two parties or other non-personal matters. Infrequently records of suits such as these do have content of significance to family researchers. Sometimes, for example, jointly held property had to be partitioned among the individual joint owners. When such proceedings involve family members, the records often include delineations of the relationships among the interested parties.


Individuals who were no longer mentally sound enough to take care of their property were subject to interdiction proceedings brought by relatives, business partners, or other concerned parties. In such proceedings, the court appointed a curator to care for the affairs of the interdicted party. Interdictions were filed in the Second District Court and, after 1880, in Docket 1 of Civil District Court.


During the nineteenth century, courts in Louisiana had jurisdiction over the adoption of children only during the period 1864- 1872. Prior to that time adoption was prohibited by the state constitution, and in the latter year the process became one that was accomplished by private act before a notary public. During the nine years of judicial supervision, adoption proceedings could be filed in any of the district courts in New Orleans except for the First District Court. In 1932, legislation again required judicial approval of adoption.

Proceedings Relating to Minors

Usually bearing on the heirship rights of minor children, these records generally were filed in the Court of Probates or in its successor courts.

Change of Name

Generally speaking, there is no requirement that a name change be accomplished through a judicial proceeding. Individuals are free to use any name(s) that they prefer, provided that there is no fraudulent intent involved. The option of legal change of name through a court proceeding is available, however, for anyone interested in recording the new appellation. State law provides that such proceedings be formulated as [Name of Person Seeking the name change] vs. District Attorney of ____.