Sunday, February 28, 2021

5 Resources to Tracing Missouri Territorial Ancestors

Emphasis on Free Territorial People of Color
Territorial Research in Missouri, whether for white or free-people of color ancestry, is quite similar to other territorial research. Following are a 5 resources to uncover relevant territorial census records, church records and court records to begin your research. 

Missouri has its particularities. In honor of the last day of Black History Month, the examples within are for Free -People of Color, with additional guidance for descendant researchers but the basics and collections covered for the most part apply to all - mainly because this covers free persons of pre-statehood Missouri. 

Most researchers know, that pre-statehood, early records in Missouri may live in Illinois, Louisiana, Florida or Missouri Territory, as well as the Kansas Courts.  Here is an earlier posted article on the conundrum of "Florida Territory Research and the Missouri Records."

Uniquely Missouri 
Missouri is Unique for the slaveholders, slaves & free-coloreds. When researching Free People of Color, the resources and strategies does not follow the "prescribed" slave to slaveholder research practices in other regions.  Matter of fact, when discussing territorial research or earlier colonial research of free people of color (yes there were free colored during this period as far west as Missouri), it is quite similar to researching other free persons in the region; however, there is one glaring difference: the laws!

The colonial upper Louisiana Territory -"Missouri"- laws on the books did not follow the Lower Louisiana territory practices; especially regarding the limitations and restrictions of free-colored persons. 

Some would love to point to the Code Noir books, but how these laws were practiced in Louisiana, let's say New Orleans, vs how the same laws were practiced in St Genevieve, Missouri for the same time were not equal.  So let's just concentrate on Missouri for now as we celebrate its Bicentennial (1821-2021).

Before Louisiana Territory
When researching Missouri pre-statehood remember early settlers were determined to block British access to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. They began setting up camp in St. Genevieve as early as 1750.  

Early Census Records - French & Spanish
Men who owned land, obligated to pay taxes, or lived as free persons usually guaranteed census enumerations.  This was the true in Missouri as early as the 1752 France Illinois Country census.  "Illinois Country" is what this territory was called; researchers may also see it read Pais des Illinois, Upper Louisiana or Haute-Louisiane, and after the 1752 census the Spanish translation of Alta Luisiana.

1787 St. Genevieve
Note: these census records capture all free persons: white, black, and brown - to include Native Americans and mulattos). Many of the early Missouri census records can be found in the State Archives of Missouri, Jefferson, City. 

Church Records:
1830 Slave Baptism
The desire to baptize the colored people, free or not, was practiced, as it was across the Lower Louisiana Territory. These books should be treasured as they often provide us with generational information. These records include birth records, and death dates. Although these early records were in French and Spanish, many indices are in English. These records may also be found on

Slave's names and that of his parents are given here, along with the slave master. Yes, you may need a translator, but you are looking for words like "hijo". Your eye will get accustomed with practice as you rely on your 8th grade Spanish class. 

Court Records
Missouri practiced Due Process for all, allowing slaves to request their own freedom. This is seen in other colonial areas, especially when a promise for freeing a Revolutionary War soldier is breeched. However, Missouri court records may also reveal land disputes or the free negro licenses required after 1835.  Researchers may also uncover travel passports for free-coloreds.  This was required for travel outside of the territory and issued especially for those who worked the waterways between Missouri and Louisiana or Illinois. 
Passport Permission for Free Persons to travel to New Orleans

These records may be found in the French & Spanish Archives at the Missouri Historical Society.

Where Are the Records: 1741 – Statehood, 1821
The following 5 resources will assist the researcher in uncovering the following:

  1. State Historical Society of Missouri: French and Spanish Archives, 1741 – 1841
  2. Family Search, French and Spanish Archives, 1766 -1816 (microfilmed)
  3. Missouri Historical Society, Slaves and Slavery Collection 1772-1950
  4. Secretary of State Archives: Territorial Censuses (1752-1819) and Tax Lists (1814-1821)
  5. Guide to St. Louis Catholic Archdiocesan parish Records
Or follow a3Genealogy for Missouri Bicentennial presentations. 
Be Historically Correct 

Kathleen Brandt
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