Genealogical Research In Southwest Louisiana

By B. J. Sloane, Jr

About twenty years ago, Fr. Donald Hebert, who was then pastor of St Anthony's church in Eunice, La, began compiling information from baptismal, marriage and funeral records of residents of Southwest Louisiana. The information is contained in books of data which he has published and made available for purchase by individuals, libraries and genealogical societies. The data in his books covers individuals who lived in an area of Southwest Louisiana from the Atchafalaya river to the east, the Sabine River to the west and from the south boundary of Avoyelles through Vernon Parishes to the north and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

His first volume, entitled Southwest Louisiana Records covers the years 1756 to 1810. The increasing population growth necessitated including shorter periods in subsequent volumes. Since that first volume in 1973, Father Hebert has published over 38 volumes of genealogical data and is still doing research and publishing additional volumes. Volumes 39 and 40 will soon be published. Fr. Hebert's Southwest Louisiana Records are very popular because their publication meant that it was no longer necessary to research one's ancestors by making visits to various church rectories and parish courthouses. One could now do the research from the convenience of the local library or even from one's home. When published, volume 40 will extend his compilation to the year 1908.

There are a number of reasons why Fr. Hebert's research was relatively easy compared to how it might have been in other areas of Louisiana. In a word, Louisiana is unique. First, because of the French-Spanish law which prevails in Louisiana, the maiden names of the spouses are used in practically every case. The parents of every person are given in the baptism and in the marriage record. Baptisms are preformed on all Catholic infants and accurate records are kept. The Catholic faith was practiced by the great majority of people in the early days. In colonial times the few protestants had little other choice but to be married in the Catholic church. It was not until the Louisiana Purchase that protestants could then be married in their own church. After this period records were not as accurate as before. This decline in standards was offset by the very early requirement that marriage licenses be obtained prior to the ceremony, so a civil record is also available.

Fr. Hebert's volumes contain the Catholic church and Civil Records (courthouse records) of those parishes in the area described above. Some Protestant church records are also included. The civil records include marriage licenses, successions and last wills of the period.

The data is printed in alphabetical order by last name. Since there are two individuals involved in marriage records, these records are cross-indexed (available under each name). The name of the person is followed by his parents which are in parentheses, then the date of the record followed by the recordation data. In the case of a marriage, a check of both names will reveal the names of the parents of both parties. Thus in marriage records, references to two generations are included in each record. For example, the first record in Volume 1 is an follows:

ABCHER, Alexandre (Jean of Germany & Francoise HARGREVE of Virginia) b. 15 June 1800 (SM Ch.: v.6, #170)

The record shows that Alexandre Abcher was born on the 15th of June 1800. His parents are listed as Jean Abcher of Germany and Francoise Hargreve who was from Virginia. The recordation data is coded. SM represents St Martin Church and the information was retrieved from volume 6, entry # 170.

Here is an entry of a marriage:

ANDREWS, Susana (Joseph & Mary Hayze) m. 23 November 1802 Martough Collins (Opel. ch.: v.1. p.113)

In cross-checking the record, the following listing for the spouse was found:

COLLINS, Martaugh (Theophile & Ane Eva JOY) m. 23 Nov 1802 Susana ANDREWS (Opel. ch.: v.1, p. 113)

In citing this record we can see that the data is identical. Listed immediately above that listing is a record of:

COLLINS, Martaugh, (Theophile & Anna Jay) b. 16 Aug 1782 (Opel. Ch.: v. 1, p. 82)

Two spaces above the name Susanna Andrews we find her birth date:

ANDREWS, Susanne (Joseph, & Mary HAYES) b. 20 Nov 1787 (Opel. Ch. v. 1 p. 130)

You will note that Susanna Andrews was only 15 years old when she married. This was an average age for a girl to marry at that time.

Like all informational data there are errors in Fr. Hebert's genealogical research. There are errors in the primary records (the document itself) and there are errors made in transcribing the records. Typographical errors were made by him and his assistants. Fortunately, they are few in number. When they are discovered errors made in earlier volumes are corrected in later volumes. So hopefully, all errors will eventually be corrected. The corrections appear in a special section at the end of each volume.

Editor's Notes: The author of this interesting article was a high school classmate of mine. He received his M.S. degree in Geology from L.S.U in Baton Rouge and worked for Shell Oil Company and for Atlantic Richfield. Later he worked as an independent consulting geologist. He is presently retired and one of his hobbies is genealology.

The Opelousas Public Library has two sets of Father Hebert's monumental work and there is a special area set aside for those who wish to search for their roots. In practically every library of any size in Louisiana, at least one copy of Fr Hebert's books is available.

Except for the youngest members, the basic genealogical research of the Speyrer family has been completed. It is only a question of time before all of this data will be published in the Speyrer Family Association Newsletter. Stay tuned. However, you may wish to search for ancestors on other sides of your family and with B. J. Sloane's article, you now know where to look and how to look. Happy hunting.

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