Citing records from the Louisiana Colonial Documents Digitization Project

Citing archival documents from a database requires a different approach from citing the same records you may have seen, physically, in an archive. You should only cite the item to which you’re referring. For example, if you visit the Louisiana Historical Center and look at one of the colonial documents from the archive, you should referencethatdocument. But if you look at the same document on, you should reference that document—that is, the digital version. Though they appear to contain the same content, they are treated differently.

Citation elements for


Document identification number



Louisiana Colonial Documents Digitization Project


Louisiana State Museum Historical Center

Record group (two options)

Judicial Records of the French Superior Council

Spanish Judicial Records

Record item


Citation example: bibliography

record group + repository + database + URL


Judicial Records of the French Superior Council. Louisiana State Museum Historical Center. Louisiana Colonial Documents Digitization Project.

Citation example: footnotes and endnotes

record item + record group + repository + database + document ID


  1. François Fleuriau, inspection report, November 1, 1725, Judicial Records of the French Superior Council, Louisiana State Museum Historical Center, Louisiana Colonial Documents Digitization Project 1725-11-01-01.

Record item: François Fleuriau, inspection report, November 1, 1725

Record group: Judicial Records of the French Superior Council

Repository:Louisiana State Museum Historical Center

Database:Louisiana Colonial Documents Digitization Project

Document ID: 1725-11-01-01


Many people from Louisiana and around the world have made the transcribathon project possible by contributing their insights as volunteer transcribers and translators, their ideas about the colonial records at the Louisiana Historical Center, and their time and labor as caretakers of this collection. Some of the members of the transcribathon project team introduce themselves below. If you are or have been  involved in this project and would like to share your name and details, please email We would be so happy to hear from you!

HANDY ACOSTA CUELLAR is a PhD Candidate in Latin American Studies at Tulane University. He holds a master’s degree in Romance Languages from the University of New Orleans. Handy is passionate about using digital humanities in teaching and the potential of archival digitization in public history. He believes that both are powerful tools to promote the open use of data by experts and non-experts. For him, the Transcribathon as a concept and project provides a great opportunity to the greater community to come together and participate in the democratization of archival data. Currently, he is working on his dissertation about the impact of copper mining in Cuba during the seventeenth century. More broadly, Handy is interested in the power dynamics behind the production, circulation and creolization of mining and metallurgical knowledge in the Early Modern world and the emergence of modern science.

RAÚL ALENCAR is a Ph.D. student of the Department of History at Tulane University. He’s interested in social and commercial relations in the Early Modern Atlantic World. His current dissertation focus on the making of connected histories between the merchants of Colonial Peru and France during the geopolitical and commercial transformations of the Atlantic (1700-1760). Due to his familiarity with French and Spanish colonial documentation, his involvement in the New Orleans Jazz Museum’s Transcribathon has allowed him to help with the organization of the event.

MICHELLE BRENNER co-directs the Transcribathon event. She co-manages the Donald M. Marquis Reading Room which facilitates both the New Orleans Jazz Museum Archive and the Louisiana State Museum Historical Center Archive. The Reading Room is where researchers can access the New Orleans’ French Superior Council and Spanish Judiciary Colonial Documents. Michelle holds a Masters of Preservation Studies from Tulane University’s School of Architecture and an undergraduate degree in History from Radford University. She was raised in Virginia and moved to Louisiana to continue her studies. Michelle is eager to continue the preservation of Louisiana’s built and material history through community engagement and hopes the continued transcribathon efforts will make the documents more accessible to researchers of all kinds.

EMILY CLARK is Clement Chambers Benenson Professor in American Colonial History at Tulane University. She specializes in the French Atlantic and circum-Caribean. She is the author or editor of five books, The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World (UNC Press 2013) and the multiple prize-winning Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society: 1727-1834(UNC Press 2007), Women and Religion in the Atlantic Age, 1550-1900 (with Mary Laven, Ashgate, 2013); Voices from an Early American Convent: Marie Madeleine Hachard and the New Orleans Ursulines, 1727-1760 (LSU Press 2007, and New Orleans and Saint-Louis, Senegal: Mirror Cities in the Atlantic World (with Ibrahima Thioub and Cécile Vidal, LSU Press, 2019). She is currently at work on the biography of Noel Carriere, the commander of the New Orleans free black militia. Her work has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Louisiana State Board of Regents, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and the Pew Foundation.

Professor Clark has conducted research using the French and Spanish colonial records held by the Louisiana State Museum for more than twenty years. She was involved in securing the National Endowment for the Humanities grant that supported the digitization of these documents and co-edited, with Greg Lambousy, a special issue of Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archive Professionals, “Atlantic World Archives of Louisiana,” 11.03 (August 2015).

She regularly uses scans of documents from the colonial collections at the Louisiana State Museum in her undergraduate teaching, but the challenges of the paleography limit the ability of students to engage these wonderful records as much as they might. She’s excited at the potential of the Transcribathon to change that.

JENNY MARIE FORSYTHE built and co-manages the Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon From the Page project site and NOLA Jazz Transcribathon project blog. Jenny grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, on Cherokee/Muscogee Creek/+++ land. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UCLA and a master’s degree in Letras Latinoamericanas from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and she teaches French at Western Washington University. She first learned about the museum’s vast collection of French and Spanish colonial documents in 2013, during a one-month summer internship with the Colonial Documents Digitization project. This experience continues to inform her current research projects, which explore the relationship between history and translation in the early modern Hispanophone and Francophone Transatlantic. She hopes that participating in the transcribathon project will teach her more about collective translation and will bring a wider audience to the museum’s extraordinary collection of colonial records. She believes Gayatri Spivak said it best when she defined translation as “the most intimate act of reading.”

GWENDOLYN MIDLO HALL is a public intellectual and professor who studies histories of enslavement in Latin America, the Caribbean, Louisiana, Africa, and the African Diaspora. In the 1980s and 90s, Prof. Hall and her team of researchers created The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy (1719-1820) Database. They used archival documents from Louisiana, France, Spain, and Texas to compile information on the background of some 100,000 people enslaved in 18th and 19th-century Louisiana. Her publications include the path-breaking work Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century and Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (2005). Prof. Hall shares her reflections on 18th-century Louisiana Judicial Records HERE.

As a genealogists and family history researcher, MICHAEL N. HENDERSON has uncovered numerous documents in the Louisiana Historical Center’s Colonial Records. One such document was critical to Henderson becoming the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution. As a result, he wrote his award-winning memoir Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation. A native of Algiers (a suburb of New Orleans) and graduate of Xavier University, Henderson credits much of his early research to these documents, and lauds the transcribathon as a critical project to explore and expose these documents to uncover the life and activities of Creoles of color and others in colonial Louisiana.

GREG LAMBOUSY is the director of the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Prior to accepting this position, Lambousy was Director of Curatorial Services for the National World War II Museum.   He began his career at the New Orleans Museum of Art and later moved to the Louisiana State Museum (LSM). During his twenty-year tenure at the LSM, Lambousy managed the institution’s collections of more than 500,000 artifacts and other historical items, directed improvements to collections storage, developed conservation and digitization projects across collections and within the Louisiana Historical Center archives including the Louisiana Colonial Documents Digitization Project. As director of the Jazz Museum, Lambousy is encouraging exploration of the connections between community programs, New Orleans music history and the colonial records.

JENNIFER LONG is co-directing the Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon and is the Digital Assets Manager for the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Jennifer’s background has always revolved around her love of the arts and museums, from a degree in Fine Art from the University of Kansas, Art History at Portland State University and Museum Studies from the Università di Bologna, Italy. She began working on the Colonial Document Project in late 2013 till its completion in late 2017, managing the digitization process, rehousing, online database and the digital content for the 18,607 document collection. She is grateful for the firsthand experience to work with these beloved documents. The stories that are told within the collection are vital to family linages and give an insightful depiction of what daily life held in the emerging city of New Orleans. She hopes that through the Transcribathon project more of these documents are able to be brought to life.

ALBERT A. PALACIOS is the Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin. Previously, he served as the Film Curatorial Assistant at the Harry Ransom Center. He holds undergraduate degrees in Architecture and Anthropology, an MS in Information Science, and an MA in Latin American Studies from UT Austin, and is a doctoral candidate in History (UT Austin) focused on manuscript censorship, printing privilege, and publishing networks in 16th Century Mexico. He coordinates transcription efforts based on the Benson’s Spanish colonial holdings and has previously collaborated with the Louisiana Historical Center to create programming that helps build a collaborative research community around our colonial collections.

BRYANNE SCHEXNAYDER is one of the presenters at the Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon.   She has a master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a specialization in Archives from Louisiana State University.  She is from New Orleans, and started with the museum as an intern for the Louisiana Historical Center, where she began working directly with museum collections.  Bryanne joined the Louisiana Colonial Document Digitization Project in 2013 as Indexing Manager.  She and her team worked with digitized images of the documents and made efforts to input as much information about their contents as possible for public access.  She hopes the transcribathon will not only bring a wider audience to the resources of the colonial documents but also allow for more accurate and in-depth data to be included on the colonial documents website, and thus a better overall experience for all who wish to utilize those documents in the future.  When not working with archival collections and colonial documents, she is a producer and writer for a Southern history and folklore podcast called “Southern Gothic.”

RACHEL E. WINSTON is a Black Diaspora Archivist at The University of Texas at Austin. She is a collaborator on the Texas Domestic Slave Trade Project, and she contributed consultation and advice in the early planning stages of this project. Rachel hopes that transcribathon participants enjoy working with the Louisiana colonial archive collections, which are sure to help reveal more about our country and the lives and experiences of the enslaved people who built it.

Colonial La. records shed new light on US history

This article describes the massive project that took place from 2010 to 2016 to digitize some 220,000 manuscript pages of eighteenth-century records from the French Superior Council and Spanish Judiciary in Louisiana. It was written by Cain Burdeau and published in the Washington Examiner on October 29, 2012.

Colonial La. records shed new light on US history

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A marathon project is under way in New Orleans to digitize thousands of time-worn 18th-century French and Spanish legal papers that historians say give the first historical accounts of slaves and free blacks in North America.

Yellowed page by yellowed page, archivists are scanning the 220,000 manuscript pages from the French Superior Council and Spanish Judiciary between 1714 and 1803 in an effort to digitize, preserve, translate and index Louisiana’s colonial past and in the process help re-write American history.

“No single historian could ever live long enough to write all the books that are to be written from all these documents,” said Emily Clark, a Tulane University historian who has worked in the papers.

The few historians who’ve pored over the unique archive say it’s pivotal because it connects early America to the broader history of the Atlantic slave trade. It’s at the heart of a wave of research tracing American roots beyond the English colonies and into Spain, France and Africa.

“We don’t think of American society simply built from east to west, but we think of it as built from south to north,” said Ira Berlin, a University of Maryland historian. “As you begin to think of a different kind of history, you’re naturally looking for new kinds of sources to write that history.”

This massive trove mostly describes domestic life as found in civil court papers, because the colony’s administrative records were taken back to Europe when the United States took possession of Louisiana in 1803.

So they tell of shipwrecks and pirates, of thieves and murderers, of gambling debts and slave sales, of real estate deals and wills. One finds pages signed by historical figures like Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, better known as Bienville, the founder of New Orleans, and Louis XVI, the king of France. And the bizarre, as in the case of a man accused of selling dog meat to Charity Hospital.

Inside the Old United States Mint museum, where the archive is stored, the pace of work is slow and methodical. The digitization team now consists of one full time staffer and one part-timer. The Louisiana State Museum, which cares for the archive, hopes to add more staff and finish the project within three years. At the current pace, it will take more than 10 years to finish.

Melissa Stein, the full-time staffer, looks for intriguing cases, like one about exhuming the body of an unbaptized 13-year-old slave girl, baptizing her and moving her body into the cemetery.

“It’s a very short document, and really, really faded,” she said, studying the fragment. She slipped it back into its folder. “It was a rough life here, that’s for sure.”

In colonial Louisiana, unlike the English colonies, African slaves and free blacks were allowed to testify in person in court.

“The Roman legal code recognized the personhood of an enslaved person and English common law didn’t,” Clark said. “So the kinds of things we can find out about the experiences of enslaved people from our records in Louisiana do not exist in the records of the 13 colonies.”

Sophie White, a University of Notre Dame historian very familiar with the collection, said the testimony “opens up so much more about what as historians we can say about daily life.”

White and Clark said they’ve learned that slaves owned property and even owned other slaves. They have learned that some slaves wore corsets, clothing typically worn by European women, and that they often chose to run away and face severe punishment to be close to their families. The records also show enslaved people were baptized in the Roman Catholic church.

“It blurs the boundary between freedom and slavery,” Clark said. “It’s not a two-dimensional picture: What do you make of it when you find an enslaved man who himself possesses two slaves and he does so when he is a teenager?”

Louisiana’s first European settlements were made by the French in the early 1700s — New Orleans’ founding came in 1718. The territory became Spanish after the French and Indian War in the 1760s and reverted briefly to French control under Napoleon in the early 1800s before being purchased by the United States in 1803.

The documents survived heat and humidity, the turmoil of the Civil War and repeated hurricanes.

The entire collection was in serious peril when Hurricane Katrina’s flood waters and winds rampaged through the city in August 2005. The Old United States Mint museum was on high enough ground near the Mississippi River that it didn’t flood. But the building’s roof was torn up and torrential rains damaged the building. A month after Katrina, the archive had to be packed up and evacuated.

Although nearly all the city’s most important archives made it through the storm without major damage, some smaller archives and many personal collections stored in attics, basements and closets were lost.

“Katrina threatened all archives in the city,” Clark said. “That was certainly a wake-up call.”

After the storm, the state museum received about $196,000 from several foundations to begin digitally preserving the old archives. The state historians are seeking about $1.5 million more to hire additional staff and equipment to complete the digitization project more quickly.

Katrina wasn’t the first time the colonial records were in jeopardy.

During the Civil War, the records were scattered and looted by Confederate and Union soldiers. After the war, historians recovered what they could and packed it away in wooden boxes at Tulane University.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s for serious preservation and translation work to begin. The Works Progress Administration then patched up pages with tape (chemical from the tape is now eating at pages) and wrote English synopses.

But past archivists and translators also buried important documents. Entire chunks — most importantly documents dealing with slave trials and women — were conspicuously left out of consideration. In one memorable case, archivists censored a case about a soldier accused of bestiality.

The hope is that digitization will change everything: literally allowing researchers to look at the fibers in a page and open up the collection for all to see and interpret.

“It’s opening up a whole new way for us to manipulate the image and actually see details in the original that you can’t see sometimes in microfilm or even when you’re looking at it in front of you,” White said. “I can blow up that passage. See it better.”

Tips and Resources for Transcribing 18C Colonial Records in French

Notaries in colonial Louisiana made their records intentionally hard to read! They wrote for the small group of people in the colony who could read French, and they often used shorthand, abbreviations, and codes of their own invention. If you are new to paleography, these tips and resources might come in handy.

For an example of a complete and verified transcription and translation of a French record on From the Page, click HERE to see a 1728 record where Melun is accused of stealing bacon.

Screen Shot 2019-09-13 at 9.48.13 AM
View of a French record about a man called Melun, who was accused of stealing pieces of bacon in 1728, and its transcription on From the Page.


For step-by-step instructions on using From the Page and getting started transcribing French records, click HERE to see a PowerPoint tutorial.

Common words and phrases:

supplie humblement X: X humbly addresses his/her petition
greffier: (court-­‐)clerk
huissier: court-­‐bailiff
audiencier: usher
habitation: plantation
et ferez justice: and thus justice will be done
suppliant: petitioner
demandeur: plaintiff
deffendeur: defendant
partyes ouyes: having heard the parties
avec dépens: with the costs
ou il a esleu son domicille: where he is dwelling
habitant: settled in, dweller, settler
cy devant: heretofore, former
donner assignation: give writ of the summons
soussigné, signifié et baillé copie: undersigned, notified and delivered copy
ès mains/dans les mains de: in the hands of
permis d’assigner: license to assign
jour prefix: appointed date
procureur aux biens vacants: procurator of vacant estates
comme fondé de procuration de X: in his capacity as attorney for X
ce considéré: now that you know this
en la Chambre: in Court
les fins de la requête: the aims of the request
dont acte: duly noted

The following words are often found abbreviated:

livres (£)
par devant
dudit, de ladite, etc.

Choices made:

Texts are nearly unpuctuated: restitution of punctuation in the translation
No  separation  between  some  words  (quil,  lhabitation,  etc): restitution  in  the  transcription (qu’il,  l’habitation, etc)
Accents and hyphons rarely written in French: no restitution, except for the names (e.g. Nouvelle-­‐Orléans) Word missing or illegible: (( ))
A portion of text missing or illegible: ((…))
Some texts are very similar to each other, in particular the judicial records (judgments and court decisions), probably written by the clerk, and the returns on Council of notice to the parties written by the court-­bailiff, which often show the same phrases.

November Newsletter: Updates from the Colonial Documents Transcribathon

Updates from the Colonial Documents Transcribathon at the New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center

These updates are part of a monthly newsletter from museum staff, interns, and volunteers which aims to communicate updates about the New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center’s Colonial Documents Transcription/Translation project and to share ways you can get involved. Thank you for reading!

Thank You & Transcribathon Recap

Many thanks to all the volunteers who made our very first transcribathon event a huge success. More than seventy people, among those scholars, professors, students and volunteers from all different parts of Louisiana came together with one purpose: transcribing our Spanish and French Colonial documents.

Image description: Transcribathon participants gathered on October 13, 2018 in the Jazz Museum’s third-floor performance space.Image description: Transcribathon attendees gathered on October 13, 2018 in the Jazz Museum third floor performance space. 

Attendees came to learn more about the colonial documents and to have fun. They were able to enjoy a tour of our museum and reading room, to explore museum exhibits, and to listen to a panel of three incredible scholars talking about their areas of research and the importance that the colonial documents hold for studying Louisiana history.

Transcribathon attendees signed up as volunteer transcribers/translators on our Louisiana Colonial Documents From the Page project site. This platform showcases a selection of our digitized colonial documents in a format that allows registered volunteers to make side-by-side transcriptions and translations from images of document pages.

Image description: Transcribathon volunteers work to decipher images of manuscript writing displayed on their laptops. 

But the marathon is not over yet! Remember that you can use your computer to contribute to collaborative transcriptions and translations from anywhere with a WiFi connection and to review contributions from others. Click here for a PowerPoint tutorialon getting started  transcribing/translating on From the Page. For access to the complete Colonial Document Collection, please visit our database at

The volunteers, interns, and staff at the New Orleans Jazz Museum and Louisiana Historical Center thank you for your wonderful support.

Invitation to Visit the Louisiana Historical Center Reading Room

If you would like to familiarize yourself with our colonial documents, please visit our reading room, a friendly and welcoming place for research. Located on the second floor of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, our reading room is open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Hours are 10:00am- 12:00pm and 1:00pm-4:00pm. For more information, click here.

tour of LHC reading room.jpgImage description: transcribathon participants exploring sample documents from the Lousiana Historical Center’s collections in the reading room.

Further Reading

You can read more about the Louisiana Colonial Documents Collection in some of the published works that reference colonial documents listed here in a GoogleDoc.

A Focus Issue on Atlantic World Archives of Louisiana is also on sale at the Jazz Museum. This volume is guest edited by Jazz Museum director Greg Lambousy and Tulane historian Emily Clark and published by Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals in 2015. It includes articles on the history of the colonial documents, book reviews, and more. Proceeds from book sales and donations support reading room activities.

Share Your Story

Some of the many people who have worked with Louisiana Colonial Documents share personal stories and reflections in the links below.

Click here for “On Reading and Sharing Eighteenth-Century Louisiana Judicial Records,”a guest blog post by Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall.

Click here for “The Joy of Finding My Enslaved Ancestor in 18th Century Louisiana Judicial Records,” a guest blog post by LCDR Michael N. Henderson.

If you’d like to share from your experiences working with Louisiana Colonial Documents in general or with a particular document, we would be thrilled to hear from you. Please send an email to if you’re interested in sharing your story.

The Joy of Finding My Enslaved Ancestor in 18th Century Louisiana Spanish Judicial Records

A guest post by Michael Nolden Henderson*

Michael N. Henderson,  LCDR. Commander, USN Ret. Past President, Button Gwinnett Chapter, Georgia Society, Sons of the American Revolution. For more on this site, see blog post titled Unveiling of New Historical Marker: Bernardo de Galvez, 27 Sept 2012.

When you’re on the hunt for answers as a genealogist and a family history researcher, nothing will stop you. That’s how I was during my early search for documents related to Agnes. I had come to know Agnes as the daughter of my fifth generation great-grandmother. Agnes was the last in a line of enslaved ancestors on this particular family tree branch, and I, as a native of New Orleans, wanted to know how and when she had gained her freedom.

As I researched more about the families that had enslaved Agnes—the Mayer and Harang families of the German Coast, an area about 30 miles outside the city of New Orleans—I learned of Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Louisiana Slave and Free Databases. These incredible resources introduced me to a several documents that dramatically changed the trajectory of my family history research. From the moment I found Agnes, named on a 1771 succession slave inventory, along with her mother Elizabeth and two brothers Pierre and George, and the price they were being sold for, I had become obsessed with learning more about her.

According to Hall’s Freed Slave Database, the manumission document of Ignez/Agnes was located at the New Orleans Notarial Archives among a collection of 18th Century Spanish Judicial Records. I knew I had to see the document for myself. This single document, I believed, would answer all of my questions about Agnes’ freedom—when it had occurred, how she had managed to gain her freedom, and who else had been involved.

The day I arrived at the Notarial Archives, I was greeted by Sally Reeves, the (then) senior archivist. I was surprised at how patient and helpful she was, considering that this was her last day on the job before she retired. After a few minutes of searching, she located the enormous book that held the manumission document. As she turned to the appropriate page, I inhaled the musty odor of the book that held the 200-year-old document, and watched the fragile parchment fall gracefully to one side as she turned the page.

Reeves translated the document, which was written in Spanish and dated December 16, 1779. Here, a dramatic event in Agnes’ life was being described. She had initiated her own manumission, which was being contested by her owner. Through a year-long court battle, and with the help of her consort, Mathieu Devaux dit Platilla, Agnes was granted freedom. Just as surprising was that the colonial Governor and General, Bernardo de Galvez had signed Agnes’ manumission document!

MNH Records.png
Left: Emancipation de Agnes Mathieu.  A. Almonester, 16 Dec 1779. Ink on parchment. Courtesy of Honorable Dale N. Atkins, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.  As Documented in 300th Tricentennial of the city of New Orleans Commemorative book, RECOVERED MEMORIES, Spain, New Orleans and the Support for the American Revolution, pages 162 and 163. Right:Manumission of Agnes, December 16, 1779, Record Group 2, Spanish Judicial Records, Louisiana State Historical Center, New Orleans. La.

Years later, I ran into Sally Reeves at a meeting of the Louisiana Historical Society. When I introduced myself and reminded her of that day, I wasn’t sure she remembered. As life-altering as the encounter had been for me, I suppose it had been just another day for her. I explained the significance of the document to my genealogy research. And then she started to remember.

“You know,” she said, “now that you mention it, I spent nearly six hours today with a television production crew discussing that very document.”

I chuckled. As it turned out, she had been contacted by producers of the PBS program, History Detectives, to take part in the filming of a segment titled “The Galvez Papers”, a program I was scheduled to film the very next day.

My hunt for answers about Agnes had taken me on a journey of discovery that would lead to the story of Agnes as the focal point of a PBS program. But Agnes’s story didn’t end there. That one document found at the New Orleans Notarial Archives connected Agnes to Mathieu Devaux dit Platilla, who, as it turns out, is my fourth generation great-grandfather. I discovered through several other Spanish Colonial Louisiana records that he and Agnes produced seven children, owned land, and maintained a decades long life partnership.

Mathieu Devaux dit Platilla served in the New Orleans Militia under the command of the General Bernardo de Galvez during Louisiana’s participation in American’s fight for independence. As a result, I became the first African American in Georgia (where I currently live) inducted into the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.

I have shared Agnes and Mathieu’s story across the country in countless presentations and appearances where I discuss my memoir, Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, which details the story of Agnes, Platilla and other ancestors, and my journey to find them.

This journey would have been impossible without the immaculate records kept within these Louisiana Spanish Judicial Records, and the help of so many archivists, staff, and volunteers who preserve these gems for access by family historians and genealogists like me. My family and I am forever grateful for the continued preservation and access to these valuable 18th century Colonial Louisiana records.

*Author Bio:

Michael Nolden Henderson, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy retired, began his genealogy journey 30 years ago. He is the author of Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, for which he was awarded the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Award by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Henderson’s publishing effort also won him Finalist in the 50th Georgia Author of the Year Awards by the Georgia Writers Association. 

Through his research, Henderson has documented his Native American, French, French-Canadian, African, and German-Swedish ancestry as far back as 1657. In 2010, the PBS program, “History Detectives” featured Henderson and his research. That same year, Henderson became the first African American in Georgia to be inducted into the National Society Sons of the American Revolution.

He lectures nationwide, and is a member of several lineage societies, including the General Society of the War of 1812; Order of the Founders of North America, 1492 – 1692; and La Société des Filles du Roi et Soldats du Carignan, Inc. His memberships in historical and genealogical societies include the Louisiana Historical Society, National Genealogical Society, the American-French Genealogical Society, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the Georgia Genealogical Society.

A native of Algiers—a suburb of New Orleans, LA—Henderson is a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana. He currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


Help Make Louisiana French and Spanish Colonial Judicial Records Accessible to New Generations of Researchers

THANKS TO CENTURIES OF EFFORTS by dedicated notaries, historians, archivists, court clerks, scanning experts, and many others, some 220,000 manuscript pages of French and Spanish colonial Louisiana judicial records are now available online at and in the Louisiana Historical Center (LHC) reading room.

THE LHC AND THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ MUSEUM CONTINUE THEIR WORK TO IMPROVE ACCESS to this collection. On October 13, the Museum will host its first Colonial Documents Transcribathon, a marathon-style event where participants will use new technologies to create open-access transcriptions and translations of selected documents. The museum also aims to extend the hours of the LHC reading room in order to serve a wider public.

YOUR CONTRIBUTION WILL HAVE A DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE IMPACT on ensuring the significance of these historical legal records for new generations of researchers. Your gift will support volunteer efforts to make the records more searchable, readable, and translatable for a global audience. You will also help ensure the LHC reading room is open five days a week as a space for researchers from all walks of life to continue their work on Louisiana history with the Center’s extensive collection of primary sources.

THE JAZZ MUSEUM INVITES YOU TO CONTRIBUTE by mailing a check payable to the Louisiana Museum Foundation on behalf of the NO Jazz Museum Transcribathon & LHC Reading Room to

New Orleans Jazz Museum
400 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70116

Or click HERE to make an online payment to the LA Museum Foundation.
Please use the Additional Information/Purpose of Donation field of the online donation page to specify that your donation is for the “NO Jazz Museum Transcribathon & LHC Reading Room”

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Please use the Additional Information/Purpose of Donation field of the LA Museum Foundation online donation page to specify that your donation is for the “NO Jazz Museum Transcribathon & LHC Reading Room”

On Reading and Sharing Eighteenth-Century Louisiana Judicial Records

A guest post by Prof. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall

Me July 2018
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall in July of 2018, courtesy of Prof. Hall

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall is a public intellectual and professor who studies histories of enslavement in Latin America, the Caribbean, Louisiana, Africa, and the African Diaspora. In the 1980s and 90s, Prof. Hall and her team of researchers created The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy (1719-1820) Database. They used archival documents from Louisiana, France, Spain, and Texas to compile information on the background of some 100,000 people enslaved in 18th and 19th-century Louisiana. Her publications include the path-breaking work Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century and Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (2005). Prof. Hall’s reflections on reading and sharing 18th-century Louisiana Judicial Records come in advance of the New Orleans Jazz Museum’s first colonial documents transcribathon. 

Bravo for this wonderful program. I only wish I could attend. Both scholars and genealogists will find a unique world in these documents which have now been digitized and made available online.

Let me tell a little story about how rare and important they are and how difficult they are to read. After my book, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: the Development Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, first appeared in 1992 relying on these and other rare documents, my colleague Liliane Chauleau, then Director of the Archives of Martinique asked to visit me so she could see the French Superior Council of Louisiana documents.

She told the Director of the National Archives of France about its testimony by slaves. He replied, “What!  Testimony by slaves! We don’t even have testimony by peasants in the Archives of France.” After she saw them she was so impressed we had a lengthy negotiation so she could put the microfilm into the Archives of Martinique.

And she told me something I did not know. She said they had about 50 trained native French speaking archivists in the French West Indies. They could read nineteenth-century documents but she was the only archivist who could read eighteenth-century documents. French historians could not read them either so they wrote only about the nineteenth century. She had attended a special advanced school in Paris, l’Ecole de Chartes to learn how to read them.  She was amazed that I had taught myself how to read them.

But now technology has advanced so we can see them all online on our computers and the transcribathon system will help transcribe them into more readable form. Please do take advantage of this opportunity. You will have a rare, unique skill which is in much demand. And you will enter the new, fascinating world of eighteenth-century New Orleans.

Click HERE to RSVP for the Transcribathon
at the New Orleans Jazz Museum on October 13.

We need collaborators and volunteers! For more information, and to find out how you can get involved, send an email to or check out the event blog at