City Archives
New Orleans Public Library

Louisiana. City Court (New Orleans)
Suit Records, Processing Notes

The individual suit records of the City Court have an unfortunate history that very much affects the way that the City Archives has arranged and described them. Although the Court originally filed its suit records in several different series, all of the records were, at some unknown point in the past, refiled into a single numeric series. The result was that the resulting arrangement comprised a continuous string of duplicate numbers with no physical separation to indicate the original series to which each document belonged. To make matters even worse, the 1807-1812 City Court records were also interfiled with the records of the later City Court of Appeals and, apparently, with other documents of as yet unknown origin.

The confusion that this interfiling caused has not only led to a general lack of knowledge of--and interest in--the records by many researchers who might well have benefited from use of these materials. The confused state of the records also defied several initial attempts by the archives staff to enlist the assistance of volunteers in the task of putting the documents into a usable order.

The City Archives was fortunate to have the volunteer assistance in 199_ of David Mascari, a Yale University history student. His job was to separate from the interfiled records all of the documents belonging to the Court's criminal case series. He not only separated the materials, flattened and refoldered them, and created an inventory of the case files, but also determined that the criminal records represented the earlier Orleans County Court in addition to the City Court of New Orleans. David's work produced a long-needed inventory of a group of important records and demonstrated that the interfiled series were not impenetrable.

Encouraged by David Mascari's project, archives staff turned to the Court's series of insolvency records. Like the criminal series, these records were relatively few in number. Unlike the criminal records, though, there existed a manuscript index of the insolvency materials. Archives staff created a database enlisted the assistance of another volunteer, Geraldine Pilotte, to separate the insolvency records, as indentified by the database, from the remaining City Court files. This project, which included flattening and foldering the records, also succeeded and that success encouraged us to take the next step.

A portion of the general suit record file was indexed in two manuscript volumes. We created another database from those indexes and Ms. Pilotte used it to separate out the appropriate materials. We then turned to the most difficult segment of the overall task at hand.

We began boxing the remaining folded records (still housed in the steel pigeon hole cabinets used at the Court House prior to their transfer to the Archives)so that Ms. Pilotte could go through them and separate out the 1807-1812 materials from the later records (those of the City Court of Appeals and possible other courts). As she selected a record, Ms. Pilotte flattened it, placed it in a folder, marked the folder, and entered the names of the parties and the docket number on a tablet. We sent the tablets to another volunteer (in the St. Louis, Missouri area) who entered the names and numbers into a Microsoft Access database.

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