Just in time for the 140th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Missouri State Archives is placing more than 270 slave freedom suits online. The free database is part of the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project, a massive effort to preserve city court documents predating 1875. This latest record set is slated to go live in the spring of 2003.
If you’re tracking down your African-American ancestors, the online archive is full of valuable clues. You’ll find the names of slaves (often first names only, however) and their owners, as well as brief narratives about how and where these individuals lived. You can perform a keyword search by one or more of the following record fields: year, plaintiff, defendant, action and case notes. The database also gives you the option to limit your query to records before or after a specified year.
This ongoing project is a joint effort of the Missouri State Archives, St. Louis Circuit Clerk and Washington University in St. Louis. The ultimate goal is to conserve more than 4 million pages of court records, which will be periodically placed online in thematic sets. The database already contains roughly 81 court cases relating to Meriwether Lewis or William Clark.