The Louisiana Historical Center
The Louisiana Historical Center houses the Louisiana Colonial Judicial Records of both the French Superior Council (1714-1769) and the Spanish Judiciary (1769-1803). These criminal and civil records, which comprise the heart of the museum's manuscript collection, are an invaluable source for researching Louisiana's colonial history. They record the social, political, and economic lives of rich and poor, female and male, slave and free, African, Native, European, and American colonials. Although the majority of the cases deal with attempts by creditors to recover unpaid debts, the colonial collection includes many successions. These documents often contain a wealth of biographical information concerning Louisiana's colonial inhabitants ranging from estate inventories, records of commercial transactions, correspondences and copies of wills, marriage contracts to baptismal, marriage, and burial records. The colonial document collection also includes petitions by slaves requesting manumission, applications by merchants for licenses to conduct business, requests by ship captains for absolution from responsibility for cargo lost at sea, and requests by traders for permission to conduct business in Europe, the West Indies, and British colonies in North America. During the Spanish period many slaves of Indian ancestry petitioned government authorities for their freedom. These requests, usually granted upon proof of native ancestry, are also a part of the collection.
This collection of French Superior Council and Spanish Judicial records has long been essential to the study of American colonial history for the quantity, quality, depth, and diversity of the documentation they contain. However due to the documents' age and condition, the only safe way for researchers to access them is through microfilm, much of which is difficult to read or illegible. In addition, the extant microfilm disregards the original order and provenance of the records. Digital imaging of the documents will enable virtual restoration of the original structure of the archive. To preserve the contents of this one-of-a-kind archive, and to provide free and universal access to the region's most significant foundational documents, the Louisiana State Museum is committed to a three year, $800,000 effort to digitize and publish the archive online in a searchable database.
The Louisiana State Museum Historical Center will collaborate with others to promote the use of the digital archive to be created. It has already published 25 records and related finding aids on the LOUISiana Digital Library. One hundred of the documents will also be available at KnowLA, where they will be translated into English and encoded with metadata to make them searchable within the context of KnowLA's core content.