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.

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.


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



What is the History of the Record’s Archivists?

Laura Porteous, Spanish translator, and Heloise Hulse Cruzat, French translator of Lousiana Historcial Society during the first half of the twentieth century

While the French Superior Council/Spanish Judicial records officially belong to the Louisiana Historical Society (LHS), they have been in the care and control of Louisiana State Museum (LSM) since the Museum’s founding in the early years of the twentieth century.

The records contain both notarial acts and judicial minutes of the French and the Spanish regimes, arranged in strict chronological order without regard to content by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930’s. Because of fundamental similarities between the two “Latin” legal systems, there was virtually no change in the structure or categorical content of the records when France ceded the colony to Spain in the 1760s. Thus, the collection is considered a single archive, despite the change of language and government rule.

At present, no one knows exactly why the notarial acts now at LSM were never deposited at the New Orleans Notarial Archives (created in 1867), but as part of the overall project LSM is writing a history of the entire archive to help solve the mystery of its sundering. For that, we need to fully understand its original order and arrangement. The only practical way to do this is to create a common electronic database which virtually re-unite the two parts. Thus, this database will enable the Louisiana State Museum to restore the original order and to identify, date and quantify many of the missing documents. This step will be a major milestone in the archivist practices.

Let’s go back to the history of these archives during the 20th century to the present.

 1917-1948: Louisiana Historical Quarterly

The Louisiana Historical Society (LHS) published a calendar of the French Superior Council records in its Louisiana Historical Quarterly (LHQ) in 1917. Between 1917 and 1948 the LHS published many hundreds of translations of the documents in the Quarterly, and in 1950 it published an index to all of the records that appeared.

1934-1942: Works Progress Administration

Between 1934 and 1942, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) using LSM facilities funded a workforce to repair, index, translate and catalogue the records, and one result was the “Black Books” index to the Superior Council records, a now-worn set of leather three-ring binders which contain a typewritten reference file for each original document that includes a title, date, document number and brief record synopsis. Though helpful to researchers, due to the length of the WPA project and number of people of varying skill-levels who carried it out, the Black Books contain numbering errors, inconsistent spellings of party and place names, and significant omissions (of slave and women’s names, for instance); Black Books translations are synoptic and, in many instances, incomplete.

When the Black Books were created, WPA workers filed case summaries/synopses with the documents themselves. These WPA “finding aids” have been digitized and e-published with the records.

The first microfilm images of the records were also made by the WPA, and by 1942, all of the records from 1769 through 1773 were “microfilmed and the rolls of film adequately stored apart from the originals which are deposited in the vaults.”


Microfilming of the records was begun again in the late 1970s with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Rockefeller Foundation, and assistance by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Since 1977, the French Superior Council and Spanish Judicial records have been housed in a climate-controlled vault in the Louisiana Historical Center (LHC), the Museum’s archive and reference library, in the Old U.S. Mint, just a few blocks from the Cabildo on Jackson Square, where the Louisiana Purchase was accomplished on December 20, 1803. The French Superior Council and Spanish Judicial records occupied about 840 archival storage boxes.


The “White Notebooks”— printed copies of abstracts of the Spanish records and some of the French records overlooked by and the WPA—were created by LSM staff and volunteers in the 1990’s, and the most recent indices to the records were compiled in 1987 and 1993.


Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the Mint’s roof in 2005. The LHC and hundreds of thousands of artifacts in storage at the Mint were hastily evacuated to Baton Rouge. Using an NEH We The People grant (PZ-50116-07: Return of Louisiana State Museum’s Collections to Enhanced Storage in Post- Katrina New Orleans), LSM consulted with expert conservators to strategically re-fit and enhance the old U.S. Mint’s collections storage areas, and to conserve, inventory and relocate the displaced artifacts. In addition to ensuring the safe transport of the documents from Baton Rouge, funding from PZ-50116-07 enabled the purchase of acid free boxes, folders, paper, and polyester sleeves for use in re-housing the colonial documents, a process which has been integrated into the digitization/e-publication project.


Since 2016 the LSM has rebranded the entire Old US Mint as the New Orleans Jazz Museum and the LHC is now incorporated into the new museum. The Jazz Museum houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of jazz instruments in the world while the LHC is the largest archival collection relating to Louisiana history in the region, housing not only the colonial records but historical maps and manuscripts, blueprints, scrapbooks, newspapers and an extensive special collections library. The LHC reading room is located on the 2nd floor of the Jazz Museum and is the research access point for both LHC and Jazz Collection archival materials.