Missouri State Archives
Guide to African American History
County Records on Microfilm
The Missouri State Archives maintains a significant collection of county and municipal records on microfilm. Records from all 114 Missouri counties were filmed by the Missouri State Archives, as part of an ongoing Judicial Records Microfilming Project. The archival filming was in conjunction with the Missouri Supreme Court, the Missouri State Archives' Local Records Preservation Program, and the Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) in cooperation with the Office of the Secretary of State. Actual dates of records vary due to fires, floods, and other forms of destruction and neglect.
Generally, records of the following offices were filmed for each county: Recorder of Deeds, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Clerk of the Probate Court. In addition, the microfilm includes records from the Clerk of the County Court, Chancery Court, Court of Common Pleas, County Assessor/County Collector, and County Superintendent of Schools. Many municipal records are available, also.
The Missouri State Archives Guide to County and Municipal Records on Microfilm provides a general reference to this substantial collection. The Guide groups the records by county and by series. Span dates are included for each series, but gaps do exist within certain series of records.
County and municipal records can be useful when researching black history at a local level. Following is a brief description of the various series; researchers will need to consult finding aids in the Archives' Reference Room to locate records for specific counties and years; questions may also be directed to 573-751-3280 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT
Under Missouri law, any person, white or black, wrongfully enslaved, could sue for freedom. These suits originated at the circuit court level.
Circuit Court Record: Permanent record of proceedings of circuit court civil and criminal cases. Includes terms of court, date, officials in attendance, number and style of case, detailed statement in formal language of any proceedings, motions, judgments, actions taken, adjournment. Slave freedom suits are included within this record group. Arranged chronologically.
Circuit Court Record (Divorce): Record of divorces granted. Gives term, date, names of plaintiff and defendant, case number, proceedings, and disposition of vase. Arranged chronologically.
Naturalization Records/Petitions for Citizenship: Petitions for foreign-born persons to be admitted as citizens of the United States. Gives name of petitioner, residence, occupation, date and place of birth, point of emigration, date and port of arrival, name of vessel, date and place of filing original declaration, marital status (if married, gives wife's name, place of birth, and residence, as well as number of children, date and place of birth, and residence of each), oath of allegiance, time of residence in the United States, certificate of Department of Labor, date of petition, prayer, signature of petitioner, circuit court's action. Subsequent certificates issued are also available.
Naturalization Record/Declaration of Intent: Original declarations of intention to become a citizen of the United States, filed in circuit court by foreign-born persons. Gives name of applicant, age, personal description, occupation, place and date of birth, race, present address, point of emigration, name of vessel, last foreign residence, oath of allegiance, date and port of arrival, signatures of declarant and circuit clerk. Also includes petitions. Arranged chronologically. Subsequent certificates issued are also available.
CLERK OF THE COUNTY COURT
Permanent Record of Births: A permanent record of births, giving name of child, date and place of birth, sex, and race; nationality, residence, and ages of parents; occupation and full name of father; maiden name of mother; name and address of medical or other attendant making return; in case of stillbirth, name of undertaker and place of burial. Arranged alphabetically by surname of the child. Most of these records span the years 1883 to 1893; there are a few exceptions for earlier and later records.
Register of Births and Stillbirths: A register of births and stillbirths, giving name of child, date and place of birth, sex, and race; nationality, residence, and ages of parents; occupation and full name of father; maiden name of mother; name and address of medical or other attendant making return; in case of stillbirth, name of undertaker and place of burial. Arranged chronologically by date filed. Most of these records span the years 1883 to 1893; there are a few exceptions for earlier and later records.
Permanent Record of Deaths: A permanent record of death, giving date of report, name, sex, color, age, occupation, marital status, nationality, birthplace; date, place, and cause of death; date and place of burial, addresses of undertaker, physician returning certificate. Arranged alphabetically by surname of deceased. Most of these records span the years 1883 to 1893; there are a few exceptions for earlier and later records.
Register of Deaths: A record showing date of report, name, sex, color, age, occupation, marital status, nationality, birthplace; date, place, and cause of death; date and place of burial, addresses of undertaker, physician returning certificate. Arranged chronologically by date filed. Most of these records span the years 1883 to 1893; there are a few exceptions for earlier and later records.
State Census Records: Beginning in 1824 and following at four-year intervals through 1876, a state census for Missouri was taken. The Census Act of 1824 and thereafter required the sheriff or assessor of each county to submit abstracts of their returns to the Secretary of State; original returns were filed with the clerk of the county court. Only a very few state census records survive.
Assessment Records: Records of assessments against real estate, showing name of owner, number of acres, legal description of property, amounts of various state and county levies, original valuation of assessor and as adjusted by boards of equalization, total amount to tax, date assessed, affidavit by county assessor certifying that assessments are in accordance with sworn declarations of persons assessed and embrace all taxable land in the county.
Tax Books: Record of real and personal property taxes, giving name, description of property, total valuation by assessor and county and state boards of equalization, allocation to various state and county funds, total tax, date paid.
Almshouse Inmates: List of persons admitted to the almshouse, indicating the following information: name of inmate, personal description (race, date of birth, marital status, sex), number of children, place of birth, nativity and parent nativity, occupation, date of admission and cause, physical or mental impairment, date of final discharge. Arranged chronologically.
County Ward Book: Record of commitments to county institutions, such as county poor farms, etc., indicating name of institution and the following information: name of resident, date of order from court to commit, date of admission, date of discharge/furlough/release, date of return, remarks. These records are primarily for the pre-1940s period. Arranged chronologically.
School Enumeration Records: Enumeration record indicating name of parent/guardian, post office address, name of student, sex, date of birth, age when enumeration taken.
CLERK OF THE PROBATE COURT
Slaves are often mentioned in antebellum court records.
Probate Court Records: Complete record of all proceedings in estates administered in probate court. Gives term, date, name and number of estate, nature of proceedings or order made, and signature of probate judge. Arranged chronologically.
Probate Papers (Case Files)/Probate Files: Original files in the administration of estates, containing applications for letters (testamentary, of administration, or of guardianship), bonds and oaths of persons appointed, settlements, claims allowed or rejected, other papers in probate matters assembled in separate folders under names of estate. Arranged chronologically, or numerically by estate number.
Inventory and Appraisement Record (various titles): Record of inventory and appraisement of all real and personal property belonging to estates of decedents, giving description and appraised value of property, date of inventory and appraisal, names and oaths of witnesses to inventory, appraisers and executor or administrator, date filed for record, and signature of probate judge. Arranged chronologically.
Sale Bill Record (various titles): Record of sale clerk's accounts of sales of personal property belonging to estates filed by executor or administrator. Gives name and number of estate, date of order, date and place of sale, articles sold, to whom, sale price of each, name of sale clerk, date report filed. Arranged chronologically.
Wills: Original wills filed for probate. Gives name and residence of testator or testatrix, provisions of will, names of legatees and devisees, provisions of will, name of executor, and attestation of witnesses. Arranged chronologically.
COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS
County Superintendent: These records may include school directories, organization of school districts, family census records, permanent records of teachers, records of school business, expense accounts, reports of county superintendents to State Superintendent, State Department high school reports, rural and high school district reports to county and state superintendents, teachers' tenure records, teachers' examinations grades, examination and certification records, transcripts and health certificates of teachers, State Teachers Association members, permanent record card of pupils, delinquent record card, transfer cards, enrollment cards, and lists of graduates.
District Records (School): Records maintained by individual school districts which include the following types of information: record of attendance, with the name and daily attendance of each student; record of standing and classification, with name, subject, and earned grade, with individual recommendations and remarks; record of annual and special meetings of the school board, with minutes of business conducted; financial records; teacher term reports, with statistics regarding sex, age, race, as well as teacher information regarding college hours attained, and experience. Arranged chronologically by school district.
School Census Cards: Index card taken for school enumeration records. Indicates name of child, date and place of birth, full name of father, full name and maiden name of mother, sex and race of child, name of school attended, year, and grade attained. Arranged alphabetically.
OFFICE OF COUNTY ASSESSOR
Land Tax Record: Records for tax purposes, which indicate the following information: to whom assessed, original claimant, present owner, acres, legal land description, valuation, slaves, other personal property, money/bonds/notes, taxable property, total state tax, total amount of all taxes. Arranged chronologically.
Tax Assessment Records: Records indicating to whom tax is assessed, land description, city or town or village lot description, slaves, other personal property, description of equipment and business holdings, taxable property, total state tax, total amount of all taxes due. Arranged chronologically.
OFFICE OF COUNTY COLLECTOR
Abstract of Taxes Collected: List indicating taxes collected. Shows name and following tax information: state tax, county tax, school taxes, "colored" school tax, and total collected. Arranged chronologically.
RECORDER OF DEEDS
Negro and Colored Marriage Records: Record of marriages of persons of color, held as slaves in Missouri prior to 1865 and who lived together as husband and wife. Gives names of parties, date and place of ceremony, certificate of officer performing ceremony, names of living children and of descendants of deceased children of the parties born before the marriage ceremony, and date recorded. Arranged chronologically by date filed and usually indexed within the volume. If not listed separately, Negro marriages are included in the regular marriage record registers maintained by the Recorder's office.
Record of Deeds: Transcripts of deeds conveying real estate. Gives name of grantor and grantee, description and location of property, consideration, dates of transfer and filing, acknowledgment, and certificate of recorder. Includes warranty deeds, quitclaim deeds, deeds of trust, sheriff's deeds, etc. Arranged chronologically by date filed.
Sheriff's Deed Records: Deeds to real estate sold by sheriff at public auction, showing date and place of sale, description and location of property, consideration, grantee, and parties to execution, acknowledgement, date filed, and certificate of recorder.
The sale of slaves on the courthouse steps was not uncommon in Missouri. Slaves were frequently purchased at sales following probate or bankruptcy actions. The names and ages of the slaves were listed on the sale bill, along with any other household items or livestock to be sold, indicating their status as property. They could be bought and sold, willed, inherited, hired out, or seized for debt.
Mortgage Records: Record of direct conveyances of real estate from debtors to creditors to secure the payment of indebtedness and giving grantee the power to sell in the event of default, showing names of grantor and grantee, date of instrument, amount of debt secured and how evidenced, date of maturity, terms and conditions of sale, disposition of proceeds, acknowledgement of grantor, date and time of filing, name of recorder; if satisfied by payment or quitclaim, includes signature of payee and acknowledgement and certification by recorder. Arranged chronologically.