Louisiana Public Records Online Access: Good and Ugly

I’ve written favorably about the vital records index at the Louisiana State Archives.  It’s easy to use to look up information and it’s set up to make ordering certified copies by snail mail easy.  Unlike Texas, Louisiana does not have an on-line ordering capability run by the state.  But since they make everything else so easy, I barely noticed.

Now the individual parishes are quite another story.   Two parishes in which I do a lot of research are Caddo and De Soto.   Here’s the unvarnished truth about their processes:

CADDO–The Caddo Clerk of Court has an easy-to-find website at www.caddoclerk.com.   On the site there is a marriage index which goes back to 1919.   I have find it to be very useful from a substantive point  of view.  My gripe with it is that it doesn’t work well with my Firefox browser.  It works fine with IE 6 and IE 7.

Copies of the marriage licenses may be ordered from as early as 1838.  The cost of a certified copy is $2.50; an uncertified copy is just $0.50!

Suppose, however, you want to view something other than the marriage index.  Perhaps you’re interested  in property records, or even in seeing the images of the marriage licenses (which are available back to 1838).  All of these things are accessible via the Internet.  The ugly part is that one must haqve a remote access account with the county.  To get such an account, you must sign two documents, an application and a contract.  You are charged a $100.00 set up fee and then $30.00 per month for unlimited access.

DE SOTO–The situation in De Soto Parish (much smaller than Caddo) is even worse.  First, the oldest records online are from 1958.  Most date from 1991.  But the fees are astronomical.  There is a one-time setup fee of $150.00.  Then, if you just want to search indices, that’ll cost $50.00 per month.  To actually view the records, you’ll have to fork over $100.00 per month!

This is a shame.  But De Soto’s clerk explains on his website:

No tax money is provided for the operation of the office except for residence, utilities, and some  modifications. The fees collected for recordings, certified copies, and services rendered in  connection with civil, probate, and criminal proceedings are established by statute.    All salaries  and expenses of the office are paid out of the fees. This makes the Clerk of Court’s office entirely self-supporting.

So there you have it!

I’m certainly not one who favors operating with no reimbursement for costs.  But, please, the maintenance of these records is a public function and it ought to be funded that way.  If you want to charge a higher fee for out-of-state
requests, that’s one thing. But to provide no public funding for a core governmental function is wrong.  It puts the  records at risk and ultimately may have dire consequences for the public.  It’s time for Louisiana to step up and pick up this duty.


One Response to “Louisiana Public Records Online Access: Good and Ugly”

  • Craig,

    I somewhat agree, but I have to say that the LOW prices charged for actual records by most Louisiana clerks of court make up for the lack of technology. Counties in Michigan charge anywhere from $10-$20 for a certified copy, and they are not allowed to issue uncertified copies. Not to mention that some of them have no online access to any index or records (some counties do, but not all counties).

May 2009
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