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Sunday, July 17, 2016

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Clicking Into Your Missouri Ancestor's Story

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St. Louis, Missouri
Are you in search of more to your Missouri ancestor's story? The Missouri State Archives has discovering the record of your ancestor's story through court records as easy as a search and a click in the Missouri Digital Heritage's Missouri's Judicial Records Collection online. This database is linked to the article Genealogy Records Available at the Courthouse which gives tips for overcoming the difficulty of finding courthouse records. Below are a few examples of courthouse types included in the Missouri database.

Railroad "right of way"

Land owned by folks living in St. Charles, Missouri like the Hostetter's, Farnsworth's and the Keithly's in 1855 just after the Northern Missouri Railroad Company was formed appear in the Missouri Judicial Records to have been subject to "right of ways" giving the railroad company access to land surrounding the railroad line. See acts predating 1871. Historic newspapers document the history of the railroad and "right of ways." Newspaper editorials show people in local areas were fearful that the newly incorporated railroads would begin to come through and mine their local resources underground. Sometimes the railroad took more than the specified amount of land. The Supreme Court also heard these cases. Civil records at Missouri's Judicial Records include a few "right of way" cases from 1855 which pre-date the General Railroad Act of 1875.
"The General Railroad Right of Way Act of March 3, 1875 (1875 Act) granted railroad companies a 100 foot right-of-way (ROW) on public land on either side of a railroad line subject to certain terms and conditions. Thousands of miles of 1875 Act ROWs are estimated to exist on public land in the western United States."
Free people of color among enslaved
The next record type is a criminal case from 1859 where Washington Clark, a slave, is accused of killing Ben, a free person of color. Also mentioned are Arnold Kerkel and William W. Edwards. An Arnold Kerkel of St Charles appears on the 1850 and 1860 Censuses. A W. W. Edwards is a 18 year old student of Saint Charles College in 1850.
Without the knowledge of Ben's last name, the fact that this criminal case exists may be the surest link to discovering more about him since the original record may reveal more about his story. Ample information to further research the other parties mentioned in the case may also be provided in the original record.

Another criminal case involving slaves and free people of color includes the following individuals of St. Charles County:
Belle, a slave - Other
Cunningham, Thomas W. - Other
Edwards, William W. - Other
Hawkins, L. L. - Other
Keen, Eli - Other
Maria, a free woman of color - Other
Nicholas, free man of color - Defendant
State – Plaintiff

In this case, Nicholas, a free man of color is brought to court in 1853 where he was said to have:
"...enticed and attempted to convey away slave Belle belonging to Samuel S. Watson as administrator of Eli Keen's estate; Nicholas testified he was trying to take her to her mother Maria, a free woman of color."

It must have created an interesting dynamic for free people of color to be in close association with enslaved people. It had to have inspired a desire to have freedoms that they could only watch other people of color enjoy however limited freedom was for free people of color.

You would have to review the original documents to determine if Belle was the daughter of Nicholas or if Belle was older and Nicholas had a romantic interest in her. At any rate, this index leads to a valuable record that documents an enslaved person before they would be emancipated and appear later on the 1870 Census. It also establishes a parent relationship. 

Do you want to learn more about free people of color in Missouri? Look for People of Color: Black Genealogical Records and Abstracts from Missouri Sources by Teresa Blattner.

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