By: Rose Mary Fritz & Ruby Dusek
on November 1997
Last Updated: 2007-05-14 14:23:37
In the Clayton Library is a well worn set of books occupying some ten feet of shelf space in the Louisiana section. These are the Southwest Louisiana Records published by the Rev. Donald J. Hébert. Those Louisiana researchers who have not yet discovered this resource are in for a treat when they do. As Elizabeth Shown Mills said, “With this set of books, you can map out your whole family faster than Grandpa courted Grandma!”
In this 41-volume set, Rev. Hébert has published abstracts of both church and civil records in the 13 civil parishes of Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, and Vermilion. (Parishes in Louisiana are the equivalent of counties in most other states.) While some civil records are abstracted in this work, it is important to keep in mind that not all of them are included, only records of known genealogical value, such as marriage and succession (probate) records. Others, such as conveyance (deed transfer) records—which many times contain important genealogical information—were not included. To get an accurate picture of the scope of each volume, it is important to read the introductory material in each.
While this set is tremendously useful, one should remember that the entries are abstracts and not intended to give complete information. The researcher is advised to use these volumes as a guide to the location of the original records and documents and to consult the originals wherever possible.
The collection begins with the earliest records of the Attakapas and Opelousas districts and advances, for the most part, in chronological sequence. It ends with volume 41, which contains records for 1909. As Rev. Hébert’s research continued, some records were uncovered which, chronologically, belonged in earlier volumes. This was corrected by publishing these records in supplements to later volumes. To make a complete search for the information you need, it is therefore necessary to check not only the appropriate volume but also the supplement section of each volume that follows.
The information given in these books is arranged alphabetically by surname. Each entry gives the date of the event and the location of the record together with a reference to book and page or record number of the original document. It is thus possible to easily obtain a copy of the record in full to verify the information given in the abstract. Because the abstracted information is alphabetically arranged, the volumes are not indexed.
Baptismal records are entered under the surname of the infant. In some instances the entry shows the date of birth; in others, the date of baptism and the age. Also given are names of both parents, including the surname of the mother and, in some cases, places of origin of the parents. For example:
FARK, Anne (George of Georgia & Adelaide Artgreve of SM) b. 19 Jan. 1798 (SM Ch.: v. 5, # 60)
In the case of a marriage, the event was entered twice, once under the groom’s surname and again under the bride’s surname. To get the full information, including parents of both the bride and groom, it is necessary to check the entries under both surnames. In most instances the mother’s full maiden name is given. For example, under the groom’s surname:
BUSHNELL, Eusevio of Connecticut (Jean Vinegent & Ana Gluenerk) m. 23 April 1792 Marguerite Makortti, wid. of Barnes Pattricio (Opel. Ch.: v. 1, p 39)
And under the bride’s surname:
MCCARTY, Marguerite (Jean & Marguerite Makleinra) m. 23 April 1792 Eusevio Bushnell of Connecticut (Opel. Ch.: v. 1, p 39)
Taken together, the baptismal and marriage records of the children in a family can often be useful in constructing the family’s migration pattern.
Death records from the parish churches give the name of the deceased, date of death or burial, and sometimes additional information such as age or place of residence or birth. For example:
DUMESNIL, Pelagie m. Charles Hebert d. 18 Sept. 1815 at age 28 yrs. (SM Ch.: v. 4, #984)
Succession records, such as the following, give further information about the family.
DUMESNIL, Pelagie m. Charles Hebert, 5 children: Severin-13 yrs.; Adelaide-11yrs.; Sostene-9 yrs.; Joseph-7 yrs.; Ursin-6 yrs. Succ. Dated 16 Feb. 1819 (SM Ct. Hse.: Succ. # 321)
While the abstracts of birth, marriage, and death records are certainly the main strength of this work, there is more, a little something extra—lagniappe! Scattered among the volumes are numerous features that add clarity and depth to the picture we are developing of our ancestors and the times and places in which they lived. They include such things as maps of the state of Louisiana for the time period of each volume (showing the development of civil parishes and dates of their establishment), parish histories and pictures of courthouses, brand books and cattle brands, maps of land owners, tombstone inscriptions, election returns, court transcripts, histories and pictures of various Catholic and Protestant churches, lists of jurors, records of First Communion and Confirmation. biographical sketches and pictures of prominent residents and public officials, among others. Also included are transcripts and photocopies of numerous original records and documents. Several features dealing with “Black” or slave records may be of interest to those researching African-American ancestry. A complete listing of features appearing in volumes 1 through 33 is given in volume 33. Check them out!
Volume 1, published in 1974, covers the time period from 1756 to 1810. This covers principally the Spanish Colonial period—which ended in 1803 when Louisiana was sold to the United States—and the Territorial period. The earliest records are those of St. Martin de Tours Catholic church at Attakapas Post (1756) and St. Landry Catholic church at Opelousas Post (1776). Only Catholic church records are given in the first volume, since it was the only church established in the area. Do not assume that your Protestant ancestors who might have wandered into this Catholic country are not to be found in Catholic records. The law of the colony recognized as legitimate only those marriages witnessed by a Catholic priest. Baptism of all children was required to ensure their right to inherit property. Your Protestant ancestors might have complied with these requirements but did not necessarily convert to Catholicism.
Marriage and succession records were the only civil records included in volume 1. Civil records dealing with the sale of land or notarial acts or donations were not included. Some of these were included in later volumes. Also included in volume 1 is a brief history of Acadiana, which includes a list the early governors of Louisiana and a bibliography.
Most of the records abstracted in this first volume were originally written in French or Spanish. This led to some interesting spellings or translations of the English names. Stephen, for example, might be rendered as Estevan or Etienne; James as Santiago or Jacques; Young as Yong or Lejeune. In addition, many of the English speaking families moving into the Spanish province did not know how to spell their own names. Local priests and officials struggled with the spelling of these strange sounding names. For example, we find Hargrave spelled several different ways, including Hartgrave, Argros, and Hergrot. Keep in mind that the documents were, in many cases, translated from French or Spanish to English and then abstracted. It is wise to check all possible name spellings when looking for an individual. Rigid adherence to the spelling used by current generations of your family will surely slow the progress of your research. Check the table of name variations at the beginning of this and other volumes to aid in finding the person you seek.
Volume 2, covering the period from 1811 to 1830, takes us into Louisiana’s early statehood. The presentation of abstracts continues as in volume 1, except that a deceased parent is indicated by a “d” preceding the name of the parent. Also in volume 2 is “An Introduction to Black Genealogy.” This is interesting reading for all, since it illustrates the power of the Catholic church in early Louisiana. Volume 2 also contains the St. Landry Parish Brand Book (1810-1832) and records of the Academy of the Sacred Heart Archives in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. These include baptisms, vows, confirmations, lists of religious, and deaths.
Volume 3 covers 1831 to 1840, a period that saw the development of the western part of St. Landry Parish and its separation as Calcasieu Parish in 1840. This volume contains entries from the Register of Blacks, St. Landry Church, Opelousas, and also features an 1839 map of land owners on Bayou Courtableu and Bayou Teche.
Volume 4 contains abstracts of pension applications for veterans of the War of 1812 and tombstone inscriptions from Vandenburg cemetery and Ferguson cemetery, Bayou Chicot.
Volume 7 covers the Civil War years of 1861 through 1865. As the slaves were freed, they took surnames of their choosing, often those of families in the area. As freedmen, their records were entered among the main body of records of church registers rather than in separate slave registers. Rev. Hébert says that in the previous six volumes he “generally omitted most slave entries because so little genealogical information was possible.” Slaves, both Negro and Indian, were usually identified in the early registers only by a given name, with very little information useful in tracing family ties. He also declared his intention to continue to selectively omit records that gave little or no genealogical information.
Volume 8 contains “How Slaves Got Their Names” as well as tombstone inscriptions from Franklin, Patterson, Centerville, and Jeanerette.
Volume 9 contains plat maps for Acadia Parish ca. 1890 with lists of landowners and also maps and landowners in the Southeastern District of Louisiana. This volume also contains photocopies of “Acts of Marriage Information” from St. Peter’s Church, New Iberia, 1770-1865. These acts were interrogations into the couples freedom to enter into a marriage. They give much interesting information about place of origin, parents, previous marriages, and religion.
Volume 10 contains some records of Louisiana families from St. Anthony Catholic Church, Beaumont, Texas. Many Louisiana families migrated into eastern Texas and established themselves in the Beaumont area. Volume 15 contains baptism records from Immaculate Conception Church, Lake Charles, 1833-1880, records collected in a special volume that escaped the fire of 1910.
Volumes 18 and 19 contain cattle brands of St. Martin Parish.
In the introduction to volume 33, Rev. Hébert announced that the publication of Southwest Louisiana Records was complete with that volume. By popular demand, however, the publication of additional volumes has proceeded and continues to the present. Volume 42, covering 1910, is due out this fall.
When Father Hébert was in Houston in May 1994 for the NGS Conference (hosted by Clayton Library Friends), he spoke of volumes 1 and 2 being redone into 5 volumes. Volume 1 would become volumes 1-A and 1-B, with the larger volume 2 becoming volumes 2-A, 2-B, and 2-C. Volume 1-A was scheduled to be ready by the end of that year.
The plan was to use the original version and simply add to it. Unfortunately, the early volumes, although typed, were not in computer readable media, and scanning them did not work well. As a result, preparation of the revised volumes was like starting over again, requiring much more typing and proofing to ensure the accuracy of the entries.
Volume 1-A came out in July of 1996. This volume was worth waiting for, covering the years 1750-1800, a good part of the Colonial period. It is very important to read the 44 pages of “Introductory Notes” before using this book, because the notes explain so much. The notes are followed by six pages of abbreviations. These 61 pages are in addition to the 1,009 pages of actual records and appendices.
The new information includes the addition of the names of the paternal and maternal grandparents, sponsors in baptisms, and witnesses (if the signature was legible) in marriage contracts and at marriages. Occupations, places of origin, and other little bits of great interest are added. If the event took place in someone’s home, the location is sometimes given. Also, the priest’s name is given. This can be helpful in accounting for the difference in name spellings, which vary depending on the nationality of the priest. Best of all, there is an “everyname” index!
There are many times when the original French or Spanish words are written out as well as translated, giving the reader familiar with these languages a feeling of actually seeing the record.
Of interest in some marriage records is a separate record of “marriage investigation regarding the freedom to marry.” This adds much information concerning the previous marriages and places of residence of the couple. Some of this was given in volume 9 of the original series.
Maps of the West Indies and of the Mississippi Valley French forts are included (with dates of the founding of the forts), as are maps of the French provinces and the present French departments.
Appendix A, pages 805-819, is a listing of the Malaga Settlers who arrived in 1779, taken from the Papeles Procedentes de Cuba, legajo 576, F/600, Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, Spain. The names, ages, and occupations of the settlers is given, along with the names and ages of spouses and children.
Appendix B, pages 820-827, is the 1781 Census of Attakapas. This lists the head of the household, number of individuals living in the household, the number of animals, and the number of arpents of land each owns.
Appendix C, pages 828-835, titled “Documents and Maps,” includes the 1797 Census of the Opelousas District, Father Pedro de Zamora’s 1795-1796 funeral accounts, and maps showing details of the Attakapas District, early French and Spanish settlements, the Opelousas area and adjacent prairies of south-central Louisiana, the lower Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche areas, and Louisiana French 1850-1950 westward migration patterns.
The everyname index, pages 836-1009, is a most wonderful addition. The approximately 6,253 records produced an index of 9,354 names. Through this, the user may find an ancestor’s earlier presence in the area as a witness, sometimes at a young age. In this way, the index is a big help in constructing relationships and neighborhoods.
Volume 1-B, covering the years 1801-1810, came out in February of 1997. It lists 5,368 records from church and civil archives and indexes about 9,452 names in 1,010 pages.
Appendix A, pages 742-752, is titled “Missionary Journal of Fr. Michel Bernard Barriere, 1803-1809.” Father Barrier traveled all around the area. This is actually a list of many of the dates and places or homes where he performed his duties. The last page of this appendix is a list of English translations of common French terms found in record abstracts.
Appendix B, pages 753-761, is a list prepared by Father Barriere of Acadian and non-Acadian emigrants. The first four pages lists Acadian emigrants and spouses coming to Attakapas 1805-1809. On the next five pages is a list of non-Acadian emigrants, showing the place of origin of each.
Appendix C, pages 762-802, is a historical sketch of the Opelousas Post.
Appendix D, pages 803-821, is a mixture of documents, maps, and translations, together with the cattle brands of St. Landry Parish, 1810-1832.
Appendix E, pages 822-827, contains abstracts of articles on Acadian history.
Appendix F, pages 828-839, contains maps showing concentrations and migration routes of the Acadians during and after their expulsion by the British.
As with volume 1-A, volume 1-B also contains an “everyname” index (pages 840 to 1,010).
Volume 2-A, covering 1811 through 1818, came out in late August of this year. Volume 2-B is expected in mid-October and Volume 2-C in late December 1997. Clayton Library has them all on order. Even though you might have researched the original set, it is definitely worth your time to research these revised and expanded early volumes for the additional information they contain.
In a recent conversation with Rev. Hébert, he said a CD-ROM version of all of the Southwest Louisiana Records books is half completed and should be out by the end of this year or early next year. It will be on one disk!
Clayton Library also has twelve volumes of South Louisiana Records, the “red” books, published by Rev. Hébert and covering the parishes of Lafourche and Terrebonne. A CD-ROM version of these records is also in work. Researchers in other parts of Louisiana often wish Father Hébert covered all of the state instead of just Southwest and South Louisiana!
Even after using these books for many years, we are amazed to find so many interesting pieces of information tucked away in them. Just when you think you’ve exhausted your research in the Hébert volumes and are convinced there is nothing left to be found, a new and valuable peice of information will emerge. This is an amazing set of books, and we are grateful to Father Hébert for his work—over the past 25 years—in publishing Southwest Louisiana Records.