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Louisiana History and Research Overview

Learn about Louisiana's history and available records in this research guide that includes a map and bibliography.

Louisiana's history is a mix of American Indian, Spanish, French, German, English and African cultures. Although Spaniards reached the area in 1541, the earliest European claim came from French explorers at the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1682, and settlements at Biloxi (1699), Natchitoches (1714) and New Orleans (1718). France ceded to Spain its vast land west of the Mississippi plus New Orleans in a secret treaty in 1762. French territory east of the Mississippi River, except for New Orleans, went to Britain at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763. Descendants of European and African colonists, called Creoles, still live in the region. Acadians, exiles from French Canada and ancestors of today's Cajuns, settled in southern Louisiana in the mid-1700s. Other 18th-century European immigrants included Palatinate Germans and Canary Islanders.

President Jefferson sent envoys to try to buy New Orleans, a port of growing commercial importance. Instead, the United States bought the entire territory of Louisiana in 1803. After several years as Orleans Territory, the southern portion of this Louisiana Purchase became the 18th state -- Louisiana -- in 1812.

Agriculture using slave labor dominated the early economy, from coastal sugar cane and rice plantations to cotton farms and plantations throughout most of the rest of the state. By 1860, the state's 708,000 people included about 47 percent slaves. Of the free inhabitants, about 11 percent were foreign-born and just over 2 percent were free blacks.

Louisiana seceded in January 1861, and numerous Civil War engagements took place on its soil. After winning New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the Union controlled the eastern portion of the state. Louisiana was readmitted to the Union in 1868. After the Civil War, farm labor was largely comprised of tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Urban Louisiana grew during the early 20th century and by 1950, was almost 55 percent of the state's population. Especially after World War II, petrochemical, timber, fishing, and related industries became major economic factors, along with food processing based on agricultural diversity. But cotton, sugar cane and rice farming, as well as the related manufacturing, remained important cornerstones in the state's economy. The port of New Orleans has been a significant commercial and immigration center for more than 200 years.

(click to enlarge)
Louisiana state map with county outlines

  • Louisiana's federal land patents are searchable online at Land transactions between individuals are filed at parish courthouses.
  • Some courthouses have lost records to fires or storms; check for surviving records, resources in neighboring or parent parishes, and local, state, and federal records.
  • Federal census population schedules: 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Federal slave schedules: 1850, 1860 (schedules named slaveholders but rarely named slaves)
  • Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890
  • Colonial censuses: 1699-1796, various years and places
  • Acadian-Cajun Genealogy: Step by Step by Timothy Hebert (Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, ca. 1993)
  • Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a People, 1803-1877 by Carl A. Brasseaux (University Press of Mississippi, ca. 1992)
  • Acadian Odyssey by Oscar William Winzerling (Louisiana State University Press, 1955)
  • Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (Louisiana State University Press, ca. 1992)
  • An Atlas of Louisiana Surnames of French and Spanish Origin by Robert C. West (Geoscience Publications, Louisiana State University, 1986)
  • Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, 2 vols., (The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1892)
  • Black Names in Louisiana by Mary Eleanor Williams (M. E. Williams, ca. 1992)
  • The Canary Islanders of Louisiana by Gilbert C. Din (Louisiana State University Press, ca. 1988)
  • The Catholic Church in Louisiana by Roger Baudier (A.W. Hyatt Stationery Manufacturing Co., Ltd., 1939)
  • Cajun Sketches from the Prairies of Southwest Louisiana by Lauren C. Post (Louisiana State University Press, 1990)
  • Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country by Carl A. Brasseaux, Keith P. Fontenot, and Claude F. Oubre, (University Press of Mississippi, ca. 1994)
  • Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization edited by Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon (Louisiana State University Press, ca. 1992)
  • A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, 2 vols., edited by Glenn R. Conrad (Louisiana Historical Association, ca. 1988)
  • Dictionnaire Genealogique des Familles Canadiennes Depuis la Fondation de la Colonie jusqu'a nos jours, 7 vols., by Cyprien Tanguay (E. Senecal, 1871-1890)
  • Down the Old Spanish Trail by Kitty Courts (K. Courts, ca. 1999)
  • Forgotten People: Cane River's Creoles of Color by Gary B. Mills (Louisiana State University Press, ca. 1977)
  • Founding of New Acadia: The Beginning of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803 by Carl A. Brasseaux (Louisiana State University Press, ca. 1987)
  • The Free Negro in Ante-Bellum Louisiana by H. E. Sterkc (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972)
  • The French Experience in Louisiana edited by Glenn R. Conrad (University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1995)
  • French and Spanish Records of Louisiana: A Bibliographical Guide to Archive and Manuscript Sources by Henry Putney Beers (Louisiana State University Press, 1989)
  • Genealogical Materials in the New Orleans Public Library by Collin B. Hamer, Jr. (Friends of the New Orleans Public Library, 1984)
  • German Coast Families: European Original and Settlement in Colonial Louisiana by Albert J. Robichaux, Jr. (Hebert Publications, ca. 1997)
  • A Guide to the Acadians in Maryland in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries by Gregory A. Wood (Gateway Press, 1995)
  • A Guide to Church Records in Louisiana, 1720-1975 by Donald J. Hebert (1975)
  • A Guide to the History of Louisiana edited by Light Townsend Cummins and Glen Jeansonne (Greenwood Press, 1982)
  • Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Records of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas, 1576-1803 by Thomas T. McAvoy and Lawrence J. Bradley (University of Notre Dame Archives, 1967)
  • A Guide to Printed Sources for Genealogical and Historical Research in the Louisiana Parishes compiled by Yvette Guillot Boling (Y. G. Boling with the Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Society, ca. 1985)
  • Gulf Coast Colonials; A Compendium of French Families in Early Eighteenth Century Louisiana by Winston De Ville (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968)
  • The Historic Indian Tribes of Louisiana: From 1542 to the Present by Fred B. Kniffen, et al. (Louisiana State University Press, 1987)
  • A History of the German Churches in Louisiana by J. Hanno Deiler, translated and edited by Marie Stella Condo (Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwest Louisiana, ca. 1983)
  • A History of Louisiana, 4 vols., by Alcee Fortier (Goupil & Co. of Paris, Manzi, Joyant, and Co., 1904)
  • The History of Louisiana, from the Earliest Period, 2 vols., by Francois Xavier Martin (Lyman and Beardslee, 1827-29)
  • Index to the Archives of Spanish West Florida, 1782-1810 introduction by Stanley Clisby Arthur (Polyanthos, 1975)
  • Indians, Settlers & Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783 by Daniel H. Usner Jr. (University of North Carolina Press, 1992)
  • The Large Slaveholders of the Deep South, 1860 by Joseph Karl Menn (UMI Dissertation Services, 1964)
  • Louisiana Colonials: Soldiers and Vagabonds translated and compiled by Winston De Ville (W. De Ville, 1963)
  • Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, 42 vols., (Louisiana Historical Association, 1968)
  • Louisiana, The Land and Its People by Sue Eakin and Manie Culbertson (Pelican Publishing Co., 1986)
  • Louisiana, A Narrative History, 3rd ed. by Edwin Adams Davis (Claitor's Publishing Division, 1971)
  • The Louisiana Purchase and Its Aftermath, 1800-1830 edited by Dolores Egger Labbe (University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1998)
  • Louisiana Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Louisianans and Their State: A Historical And Biographical Text Book of Louisiana by the Louisiana Historical and Biographical Association (ca. 1919)
  • Newspaper Files in Louisiana State University Library (Louisiana State University Library, 1961)
  • Old Families of Louisiana, 1608-1929 by Stanley Clisby Arthur (Harmanson, 1931)
  • Old Louisiana Plantation Homes and Family Trees, 2 vols., by Herman Boehm de Bachelle Seebold (Pelican Press, Inc., ca. 1941)
  • South Louisiana Records: Church and Civil Records of Lafourche-Terrebonne Parishes, 12 vols., by Donald J.Hebert (D.J. Hebert, ca. 1978-ca. 1985)
  • A Southern Catholic Heritage by Charles E. Nolan (Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1976)
  • Southwest Louisiana: Biographical And Historical edited by William Henry Perry (Gulf Publishing Co., 1891)
  • Southwest Louisiana Records: Church and Civil Records, revised edition, 4 vols., by Donald J. Hebert (Hebert Publications, ca. 1996-ca. 1997)
  • The Spanish Borderlands: A Chronicle of Old Florida and the Southwest by Herbert Eugene Bolton (Yale University Press, 1921)
  • Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana by Ann Patton Malone (University of North Carolina Press, ca. 1992)
  • Vignettes of Louisiana Church History by George C. Poret (G. C. Poret, ca. 1985)
  • Who's Who in Colored Louisiana edited by A. E. Perkins (Douglas Loan Co., Inc., 1930)
  • Who's Who in Louisiana and Mississippi (Times-Picayune, 1918)
  • Women in the Florida Parishes, 2 vols., by Donna Burge Adams (1985-1986)

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Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy.
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