St. Louis Circuit Court Legal Encoding Project
Digital Library Services
About the Materials
Courtesy of Mike Everman, Missouri State Archives

All records were created in the course of business by the Circuit Court, its subsidiary courts, and predecessors as provided for by federal and state law. Upon the separation of St. Louis City and St. Louis County in 1875, the city retained custody of all court records previously produced. These records have remained in the custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court since that time, both in the historic Old Courthouse constructed in 1839-1852 and the Civil Courts Building constructed in 1930. The records are now housed at the Missouri State Archives-St. Louis in the Circuit Court Record Center in the Globe Building at 710 North Tucker.

Broad selections of case files, record books and indices are part of St. Louis Freedom Suits / Legal Encoding Project online collection.

Case files: Papers filed and used in cases tried before the Circuit Court and its subsidiary courts in the 19th century. These included the Criminal Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the Land Court, the Law Commissioner's Court. Case files often include originals or transcriptions of documents from related courts or from justices of the peace. These documents pertain to cases in the St. Louis Circuit Court or its predecessors and were transferred on appeal, change of venue, or writ of certiorari from the circuit court.

The bulk of the case files involve civil suits brought by ordinary men and women pursuing justice in disputes over debts, damages, and broken promises, including divorce, alimony, and child custody. Criminal case files dealing with theft, destruction of property, slander, and murder are also well represented. Chancery cases are less numerous, but dealt with injunctions and with the equitable distribution of property such as in divorces, land partition, and business partnership cases. The chancery distinction was abolished in the early 1850s, and those cases were styled as equity.

Many of the case files do not include papers indicating the verdict, judgment, or final resolution of the case. This information can be found in the corresponding indexed record books, which give a daily account of the proceedings in the court.

Case files may include the following documents: handwritten petitions and answers filed by attorneys, affidavits, writs of summons or subpoena, witness depositions, promissory notes, assignment of notes and debts, accounts, motions, orders, verdicts, and appeals, maps and drawings, newspaper clippings, or advertisements. Some documents may be written in French, Spanish, or German.

Direct index books to circuit court case files: Handwritten entries for each case, arranged by letter of the alphabet for the last name of the plaintiffs for each consecutive term. Example: all plaintiffs whose last name begins with A for the March Term of 1843, then the October term of 1843, and so on. Alphabetical index gives term of court, year, name of parties (plaintiff versus defendant), case number.

Inverted index books to circuit court case files: Handwritten entries for each case, arranged by letter of the alphabet for the last name of the defendants for each consecutive term. Example: all defendants whose last name begins with A for the March Term of 1843, then the October term of 1843, and so on. Alphabetical index gives term of court, year, name of parties (defendant adversus plaintiff), case number.

Record books: Permanent bound handwritten record of daily proceedings of circuit court civil and criminal cases. Chronological record includes term of court, date, officials in attendance, number and style of case, detailed statement in formal language of any proceedings, motions, judgments, actions taken, adjournment. Some volumes have corresponding indexes at the back or in a separate volume.

Executions: These do not deal with life and death issues or punishment. An execution is a writ providing for the implementation of a judgment in the courts. Example: A received a judgment from the court that B must pay him $800 from a debt along with court costs of $47.50. The writ of execution demands settlement and payment to A from B as verified and recorded by the sheriff.

Execution Record Books: These handwritten bound books are arranged in chronological order and record the costs and status of the execution (settlement) of a judgment in the court from a prior term. Information for each execution includes plaintiff, defendant, execution number, term of court, amount of judgment or costs, and notes about the entire, partial, or lack of settlement (in cash or attachment of property and other assets) as verified by the sheriff. Most times it will include the term and case number from the original case. Notes often indicate "nulla bona" meaning no assets to attach in settlement, "Satisfied" as recorded or "not found in county."