Genealogy tools

My very own genealogical Narnia

It’s not the door to Narnia, but it’s close …

A few years ago, I was rooting around on Ancestry when I discovered my very own genealogical Narnia. I consider it consolation for all those hours I spent in my grandmother’s quilt-filled armoire hoping – hoping, oh so much – that the back of it would open into a secret world filled with snow, sleigh rides, talking animals and Turkish Delight. I even memorized a map of Narnia I found in my uncle’s childhood bedroom just in case I needed to navigate this fascinating world. Like algebra, it turned out to be useless knowledge.

I’m going to share my secret in case you also spent your childhood crouched atop a pile of old-smelling quilts looking for Narnia. The secret is a cache of Louisiana court records on Ancestry. For the most part, they’re not indexed, but they are sorted by parish. This means they don’t show up in the search engine, making them a somewhat hidden portal. This little treasure trove came in handy when someone asked me recently for help locating records on the Opelousas Post.

Opelousas is in St. Landry Parish, near Lafayette. It was home to an Indian tribe called the Opelousa when Europeans moved in and established a trading post long before Louisiana became a state. The post switched from French to Spanish hands over the decades.

1801 was a busy year in the Opelousas Post.

Probably the best way to think about the Opelousas Post is as a vast colony in the wilderness. As explained in this excellent writeup, the post stretched for miles and was known as “the west.” The people who settled there crossed an ocean to live in a wilderness. They married, divorced, bought cattle, built farms and died. All of that had to be recorded.

Because the Opelousas Post existed before Louisiana became a state, it was a puzzle as to where the records would be located. I’ll save you the tumble down the rabbit hole. At one point, the St. Landry Parish Courthouse had them. In the 1980s, they were turned over to the State Archives, where they take up 1 cubic foot of space.

Now I could grab a pencil, notepad and a pair of gloves and head over to the State Archives to carefully read centuries-old documents. First, though, I checked my little Ancestry portal. And, just like that, I was transported to decades of slave sales, mortgages, marriages, deaths and squabbles in the Opelousas Post. No, I didn’t read every record that’s been scanned and placed in my portal (yes, I now think of it as my portal). Someone did that for me and summarized the records. That someone included names, the language the record is in (French, English or Spanish) and the general topic (marriage, murder or boring property sale).

It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of life in a trading post on the Louisiana frontier.

Even better, you’ll find records for just about every parish and post in the state of Louisiana. All you have to do is take the time to browse through them. If you’d like to do so while sitting atop a pile of quilts in an old armoire, I won’t judge you.

Here’s how I find this cache of records: I type “Louisiana wills Ancestry” into the Google search engine. It takes me to the collection, which is officially named “Louisiana, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1756-1984.” You could also just go through Ancestry’s card catalog.

You’ll land on a search page, which is only somewhat helpful and rather misleading. Only a fraction of the records is indexed. So, if the search engine doesn’t produce anything, don’t despair! The landing page also has a “Browse this collection” section on the righthand side of the page. This is the treasure trove. You can pull up records by parish, including all the records that someone hasn’t indexed for you. But … some of them contain the courthouse indexes so it’s just a matter of pulling up the digital files and flipping through those indexes. Easy peasy.

This little treasure trove can save you a trip to the courthouse to look through succession records, will books and estate inventories because a lot of them are in this portal. It’s by no means a complete collection, but I’m thankful it exists.

Happy new year!


3 thoughts on “My very own genealogical Narnia”

  1. Thanks for the tip and directions on how to search successions! Can’t wait to check out West Feliciana, Natchitoches and St Martin parishes. I enjoy all of your posts and look forward to the new ones coming in 2023!

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