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Missouri State Archives, St. Louis - Record Holdings
The primary collection held at Missouri State Archives-St. Louis (MSA-St. Louis) are the records of the St. Louis Circuit Court, 1804-1875, and its subsidiary courts. Some of these records have been microfilmed, others have yet to be processed. MSA-St. Louis also has records on microfilm for the St. Louis Recorder, Board of Aldermen, Coroner, County Court (pre- and post-1875 city/county split), and the St. Charles Circuit Court. For the complete list of microfilm holdings, click here.
The nineteenth-century St. Louis judicial system was complex and changed constantly as St. Louis evolved erratically under the impact of forces that transformed it from a French colonial village into America’s fourth largest city. Jurisdiction for different types of cases transferred between several courts over the course of Missouri’s colonial, territorial, and statehood eras. Locating certain types of cases may require searching more than one records group.
Civil cases were managed in several courts during the nineteenth century:
St. Louis Circuit Court
The St. Louis Circuit Court was the jurisdiction for most civil cases from 1815 until the present. The MSA-St. Louis is home to the case files, record books, and indexes for all civil cases through 1875. The record books and indexes for 1804-1865 have been microfilmed. Case files from 1804-1835 have been processed, microfilmed and digitized. Case files from 1861-1868 have been processed. Mechanics Liens from 1824-1875 have been processed and microfilmed.
During the period from 1815-1849, cases in which a ruling could not be determined by following statute alone were heard in chancery (or equity) court sessions in the circuit court where a fair decision could be ruled in cases such as trust, land, or property disputes, excluding probate cases. The record books and indexes from this court have been microfilmed. Most chancery files for the circuit court have not been processed.
Court of Common Pleas
A separate Court of Common Pleas operated from 1841-1865. Courts of Common Pleas heard civil actions and appeals from Justices of the Peace. When this court was closed, the St. Louis Circuit Court assumed responsibility for all civil actions. The record books and indexes from this court have been microfilmed. The case files from this court have not been processed.
A separate Land Court (1853-1865) presided over all actions in law or equity related to title or possession of real estate, including liens. This court consolidated into the St. Louis Circuit Court in 1865. The record books and indexes from this court have been microfilmed. The case files have not been processed.
Law Commissioners Court
The Law Commissioners Court operated from 1845-1865 to take testimony from courts of record, to take depositions, to certify deeds and instruments of writing, and to hear all actions of contract less than $150 and all actions of trespass less than $100. The record books, indexes, and case files for 1851-1865 have not been processed.
Criminal cases are intermixed with civil cases for the period of 1804-1830 and were tried in several courts during this era. A separate Criminal Court was established in 1831. Indexes for all criminal cases during the period of 1831-1900 are available on microfilm. Records from the actual cases are available on microfilm for cases from 1840-1900. The original case files were destroyed after they were microfilmed.
The probate court dealt with all matters relating to probate files, executors, and administrators. This included taking proof of last wills and testaments, granting letters testamentary and of administration, and all other matters related to probate. Letters of administration dealt with the goods and chattels of persons who died intestate. Probate files are separated into Estate Files and Guardianship files.
Missouri State Archives - St. Louis Microfilm
- Board of Aldermen
- Chancery Court
- Circuit Court
- Coroner Inquests
- County Court
- Court of Common Pleas
- Criminal Court
- Justice of the Peace
- Land Court
- Law Commissioners
- Mayor’s Messages
- Mechanics’ Liens
- Probate Estates
- Probate Guardianships
- Recorder of Deeds
- St. Charles Circuit Court
Missouri State Archives - St. Louis Microfilm documents are available on this website in the .pdf format. In order to view or print them, you must have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. To download a free copy of Adobe Reader, click on the icon below.
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[ For more Missouri State Archives resources, please visit our online Reference Room ]