On the road! Something we promised ourselves when we formed our CreoleGen group was that we will do field trips to repositories that assist researchers in their efforts to document the ancestors. We want everyone in our group, and those who would like to associate with our group, to visit as many archival resources in south Louisiana as possible so we can all be familiar with what’s available (because even if we don’t use them we want to help other researchers, right?).
Our field trips are not planned as big, super-organized affairs but instead are designed around an interest one of us shows in visiting a particular repository or if one of us plans to visit a location to undertake research at that location. We determine a day and time and people “buddy up” and drive their own cars.
Such was the case on Friday, June 13 when a few of us trekked from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to visit the archives of the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge. The archives are located on the 2nd floor of the Chancery building of the Catholic Life Center complex at 1800 South Acadian Thruway, Baton Rouge. The archivists greeted us warmly and, lucky us, there was a birthday celebration going on. Nothing elaborate but we were offered and accepted a piece of cake and coffee. Yum!
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge consists of 12 civil parishes: Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Lexington, and St. James. Two in our group specifically wanted to look for information in St. James Parish so that’s where the search was focused. Since I had never been to this archive I was very interested in what was available and what my co-researchers were interested in finding.
The Diocese began publishing its sacramental records in 1978. They contain records of Catholic births, marriages and funerals for all 12 civil parishes and are available in bound volumes. Since 1978, 23 volumes of the Diocese of Baton Rouge Catholic Church Records have been published — lovingly called “the red books” by researchers — which cover the years from 1707- 1900. All of these volumes were indexed by surnames and, as a result, large segments of our Catholic population were omitted simply because their records listed only first names of their ancestors. Those individuals without surnames, in most cases “slaves,” were not included in the 23 volumes mentioned above.
Taking this into consideration, the Diocese began taking the initiative in 2007 to help genealogists with the task of finding their ancestors who are not listed in the 23-volume collection. The Diocese has already released 2 special volumes in paperback of individuals without surnames for the parishes of:
1. Pointe Coupee (1770-1900) and
2. East & West Baton Rouge + East & West Feliciana (1800-1880)
These volumes are organized in 3 sections to make it easier to locate an ancestor:
Section 1– individuals without surnames listed alphabetically
Section 2–individuals without surnames grouped by slaveholder’s surname
Section 3–individuals without surnames or slaveholders + individuals with surnames not previously published
Volumes of other parishes will be released in the future with St. James Parish coming next.
During our time at the archive we perused several interesting collections. The archive has bound volumes of St. James Church, St. James, Louisiana, Black Baptisms 1852 – 1860 and Marriages 1852 – 1879 (Mariages des personnes de couleur). Some entries were in English, most in French, depending on the priest who recorded the information. Notes were made in the margins to assist in finding the person. Some examples of marginal notes are:
“Livin et Marie Terese esclaves des…” [Livin and Marie Terese slaves of…]
“Joseph Alfred et Odile libre… [Joseph Alfred and Odile free…]
Interestingly, Joseph has a last name but Odile does not which is why they are included in the marriages of those with no surname.
Another interesting and helpful book was St. James Church, St. James Parish Baptisms – Colored 1835 – 1851. The person’s name is noted in the margin next to the baptism record to make it easier to find that person. The margin note says “esclave de” [slave of] or “libre” [free].
These are wonderful records that had not been included in the previously published vital records because the individuals had no last name. Even more wonderful was that the archivist provided a proof sheet of the most recently transcribed records that were being readied for publication and one of our group found a couple of citations that looked very promising for follow-up inclusion in the family history! Thank you archivists!
We certainly love this stuff!
If further assistance is needed in your research, consider calling 225-387-0561 or email Katie Oubre, Assistant Archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org to seek advice or set up an appointment to search through records of the other civil parishes of persons without surnames. Or, if you already know what you want, go to www.diobr.org/archives for order forms.