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Mobile makes its mark with Municipal Archives

Denis Buckley died of consumption on Dec. 1, 1860, in Mobile. He was 55. Dominique Baumer, 57, died Dec. 7, 1860. A native of France, he was buried in the local Catholic cemetery.

These port city residents never imagined that someone would be casually poking around in their affairs in 2002. But their death certificates, along with those for thousands of others who died between 1848 and 1983, are preserved on microfilm at the Mobile Municipal Archives.

Certificates exist for slaves, recent immigrants and pioneer families. A quick glance at one roll of film showed that many decedents hailed from countries such as Austria, England, Ireland and France. Some were transplants from nearby states such as Georgia and Florida. (For more recent death records and some birth records, contact the Mobile County Health Department.)

Microfilmed death records are not a novel idea. All states have them. The major difference with these is that they are housed in the Mobile Municipal Archives. Few cities can boast of owning such an extensive collection of records in a central location. More should seriously consider creating one.

The archives is the official repository for Mobile's records, including all municipal departments and associated boards, commissions, etc.

With the help of Donna Lewis-Christian, assistant archivist, and Pamela Major, an office assistant, I learned that the archives, founded in 1983, has holdings that include public records of the city of Mobile going back to the city's creation as a municipality by the Mississippi territory in 1814. The majority of the records, though, date to 1820.

Mobile is the oldest American city west of the Appalachians. Celebrating its 300th birthday this year, it was established in 1702 as the capital of newly created Louisiana and has evolved from an early French colonial outpost into a major city. It became an American possession in 1813.

(Original records of Mobile's colonial history, from 1702 to 1813, are scattered about in London, Paris, Seville and Madrid.)

Among the most important records to genealogists in the archives are:

+ Index to wills and land transactions (1798-1840)

+ City tax lists (1829-1954)

+ Burial records (1848-1986)

+ Ship passenger lists (1820-1905, with some gaps)

+ City directories (1837-current)

+ Index to divorce records (1816-1918)

+ Index to marriage records (1813-75)

+ Slave schedules (1850 and 1860)

+ Mississippi territorial census records

Microfilmed copies of newspapers are other treasures worth checking out. Selected issues of the Mississippi State Gazette date to 1818, and copies of the Mobile Commercial Register start in 1842. A number of Louisiana newspapers, especially from the New Orleans area, go back to 1810.

The archives staff is willing to answer brief questions about genealogy and will duplicate and mail copies of specific documents requested by researchers, Lewis-Christian said. Copies cost a dime. If the records you need are not kept at the archives, the staff can direct you to the appropriate agency. But workers don't have the time to conduct extensive genealogical research for individuals. If you need that kind of help, contact the Mobile Genealogical Society for referral to a local researcher.

New radio show

Hear the latest in genealogy by tuning into a new radio show, Ancestors of the Rich and Famous, at 11 a.m. Saturday on WTAN-AM 1300 and WZHR-AM 1400. Hosted by Charles Le Cher, former mayor of Clearwater, and produced by Tom Nocera, executive director of the Ancestral Marketing Institute, the program includes interviews with descendants of the rich and famous as well as tips on researching your family tree.

Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Write to her c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at rootscolumnyahoo.com.

Mobile resources

Mobile Municipal Archives, P.O. Box 1827, Mobile, AL 36633; e-mail archivesci.

mobile.al.us; phone (251) 208-7740.

Mobile County Health Department, Web site, www.mobilecountyhealth.org.

Mobile Genealogical Society, 1261 Elmira St., Mobile, AL 36604; Web site, www.siteone.com/clubs/mgs; phone (251) 432-6474.

Mobile Public Library, History and Genealogy Division, 704 Government St., Mobile, AL 36602; phone (251) 208-7093.

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