Missouri Digital Heritage :: Collections :: Missouriís Judicial Records :: Project History

St. Louis Probate Court Digitization Project, 1802 - 1900

A collaborative project of the
Missouri State Archives, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State
and the St. Louis Probate Court

Project History:

In November 1995, the Missouri State Archives, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, in cooperation with the St. Louis Probate Court agreed to preserve the valuable information contained in the early probate decedent files of St. Louis City/St. Louis County through the process of archival microfilming. St. Louis Genealogical Society members, trained by the Missouri State Archives, worked on the early records to prepare them for the filming process.

In September 1996, a camera operator from the Genealogical Society of Utah filmed the prepared probate files at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City, Missouri. In late 1996, missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) began processing the remainder of the probate decedent files through 1900. These files were transferred from St. Louis to the Missouri State Archives for this project. The entire project contains Probate File 1 through Probate File 26545; these files are available for research on over 1200 reels of microfilm.

The names found in the probate files represent a virtual "Who's Who" of early St. Louis. Included in the pre-statehood files are the probate records of Marie Thérèse Chouteau, society leader and property owner; Charles Lucas, killed in an 1817 duel with Thomas Hart Benton, later one of Missouri's first United States senators; and Manuel Lisa, fur trader and entrepreneur who opened the Northwest fur trade to the United States. These names are recognizable to Missouri historians, but the bulk of the probate files contain the names of the men and women who were ordinary citizens living and working in St. Louis. The files provide extraordinary information about the families who settled in territorial St. Louis, revealing family demographics, standards of living, biographical information, and level of community involvement.

The files created after statehood include the same information, as well as many familiar names. Mountain man Jedediah S. Smith; St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau; explorer, territorial governor, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Clark; bridge builder James B. Eads, and Union general William Tecumseh Sherman are all included in the St. Louis Probate Court collection.

Through the processing project, the St. Louis Probate Court decedent records from 1804 through 1900 are now available for research on microfilm at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City.

In October 2000, the St. Louis City Probate Court agreed to transfer the guardianship files from storage facilities in St. Louis to the Missouri State Archives for archival processing and microfilming. The guardianship files cover the period from 1824 through 1900. This project, assisted by missionaries from the Mormon church who process and microfilm the records, is expected to reach completion in 2004.

In mid-2002, the Missouri State Archives decided to make the St. Louis Probate decedent files from 1804 to 1821, encompassing the territorial period in Missouri history, available to the public in digital format. The original documents were digitized and viewable copies of each file, many handwritten, were placed on the Secretary of State's Office website. Microfilming of probate files created after 1821 through 1900 was completed in 2002; digitization of and access to these records will be completed in several stages.

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