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St. Louis was founded in 1764. Its earliest judicial system followed Spanish and French civil codes, as the territory was traded back and forth between Spain and France. By 1804 St. Louis was under American jurisdiction, as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Each district in the Louisiana Territory had multiple courts:

  1. Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace (predecessor of the county court),
    1 October 1804–30 November 1812
    Criminal and administrative jurisdiction for the district

  2. Court of Common Pleas
    1 October 1804–30 November 1812
    Civil jurisdiction for the district

  3. Probate Court
    1 October 1804–30 November 1812
    Probate of estates

  4. Orphans’ Court
    1 September 1807–30 November 1812
    All matters relating to orphans, minors, and guardians

  5. General Court (Court of Chancery)
    1 January 1811–1 January 1815
    Functioned as a superior court and heard appeals from all other courts

In 1812 Congress created the Territory of Missouri. The first four courts in the above list were active until 1813 when they were abolished and replaced by the Court of Common Pleas. The Circuit Court of St. Louis began on 15 February 1815, continued into early statehood (10 August 1821) and into the present.

By 1841, there were four courts under supervising control of the St. Louis Circuit Court:

  1. Criminal Court (predecessor Circuit Court for Criminal Causes)
    1 February 1839–1897
    Had criminal jurisdiction for St. Louis County till 1876, then only for St. Louis City

  2. Court of Common Pleas
    21 January 1841–31 December 1865
    Joint jurisdiction with Circuit Court in civil actions

  3. Law Commissioner’s Court
    14 January 1845–31 December 1865
    Take depositions, certify deeds, act on contracts less than $150, act on trespass less than $100, act as justice of peace in criminal cases

  4. Land Court
    23 February 1853–12 December 1865
    All matters relating to real estate, including liens

After the Civil War, the Court of Common Pleas, Law Commissioner’s Court, and Land Court were replaced by the St. Louis Circuit Court (1 January 1866–Present).

Other courts were St. Louis Criminal Court (1 February 1839–1897, when it became the Circuit Court for Criminal Causes); St. Louis Court of Criminal Correction (15 March 1866–1980s), and the St. Louis District Court of Appeals (1865–1870). The latter became the St. Louis Court of Appeals and is still in operation.

Probate cases in St. Louis have been under the auspices of seven different courts.

  1. Probate Court, 1 October 1804–30 November 1812
  2. Court of Common Pleas, 1 September 1813–14 February 1815
  3. Circuit Court, 21 January 1815–27 November 1820
  4. County Court, 28 November 1820–7 January 1825
  5. Probate Court, 7 January 1825–30 April 1827
  6. County Court, 1 May 1827–30 April 1841
  7. St. Louis Probate Court, 1 May 1841–Present

An index to some of the earliest existing court records (1804–1858) for St. Louis may be found in the Missouri Historical Society Research Library. St. Louis Circuit Court records (1787–1875) are being indexed and digitized by the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project and can be found online at the Missouri State Archives Website.

Civil/Criminal/Chancery case files are in the Office of the Circuit Clerk in the City of St. Louis. There are over two million cards indexing these records, dating from 1858–1979. This information is currently only available by contacting Kathy Grillo at the Circuit Court office. Each card contains the name of the plaintiff and the defendant, the case number, and the date filed.

 

Circuit Court Offices

St. Louis City Circuit Court
10 N. Tucker
St. Louis, Missouri 63101

Circuit Court of St. Louis County
7900 Carondelet
Clayton, Missouri 63105

 

Bibliography

 

St. Louis Genealogical Society. St. Louis County, Missouri Probate Records. 4 volumes. St. Louis: the Society, 1982. vol. 1 1804–1849; vol. 2 1849–1861; vol. 3 1862–1869; vol. 4 1870–1876. [This information is from the will books, not the probate files.]

Missouri State Archives, Local Records Program. An Abstract of the St. Louis Court System, 1804 to 1875. 6 February 2004.

 

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