St. Louis Genealogy
The Great Divorce
Prior to 1877, St. Louis County encompassed the City of St. Louis plus all other areas within the county boundaries including such towns as Kirkwood and Florissant. During that time, the county seat was the City of St. Louis. Often called the "Great Divorce," the split occurred after the citizens of St. Louis County (that included both city and county) voted on the question of whether the City of St. Louis should separate from the county and become an independent city.
The vote took place 22 Aug 1876, and the initial count indicated that the separation question had failed by just over 100 votes. Supporters of separation then brought charges, including fraud, and a recount was ordered. The recount took four months so it was late 1876 before it was determined that the vote for separation had passed. The story of the split is really much more complex than that, so consult the reading list below for more in-depth material.
Why Can't I Find My Ancestor?
If your research is in the post-1876 time period, you need to check the records for BOTH city and county. People's lives often involved traveling back and forth between city and county-and the records of events in their lives were recorded based on where the event occurred, not where they lived. This applies to a wide range of records but especially to
- Births – The place of birth was not necessarily where the parents lived.
- Marriages – Where were the vows exchanged?
- Deaths – (Exactly where did the person die? The location of a hospital often determined whether a person died in the city or county.
- Burials – Were they buried in the city, then later moved to a cemetery in county and vice versa? Also were they buried in one cemetery and ALL burials in that cemetery were moved to another location?
If you see a location listed as "St. Louis" when working with family records after 1876, try to find out whether that refers to St. Louis County or to the City of St. Louis.
As an example, an event—such as a marriage—could have occurred in rural St. Louis County before the split, but the officiating minister did not record his records until two and a half years later. By 1879, the new courthouse was built in Clayton and their record keeping system was established, so that is where he went to record the marriage which had occurred in the county. If he had recorded the marriage in a timely manner—just after the wedding—the record would now be housed by the Recorder of Deeds Office in the City of St. Louis with all the other pre-1876 marriages. Because of the delay in recording the marriage, however, the record would now be housed by the Recorder of Deeds Office in the County Courthouse in Clayton, Mo.
Prior to the split (through 1876)
All City and County records created prior to the split were kept by the City of St. Louis and are housed by various governmental offices for the City of St. Louis in downtown St. Louis. Many of those records are available on microfilm and many microfilms have been digitized by FamilySearch.
After the split (1877 to present)
City records created after the split are maintained and housed by city governmental offices for the City of St. Louis in downtown St. Louis. Many of those records are available on microfilm and many have been digitized by FamilySearch.
County records created after the split are maintained and housed by county governmental offices for the County of St. Louis. In late 1877, Clayton, Mo. was selected as the new county seat and that is where most of the county governmental offices are located today. Many of those records are available on microfilm and have been digitized by FamilySearch.
- Barclay, Thomas S. Movement for Municipal Home Rule in St. Louis. University of Missouri Studies Series. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri, 1943. Q 352.0778 B244M
- Barclay, Thomas S. St. Louis Home Rule Charter of 1876: Its Framing and Adoption. University of Missouri Studies Series. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1962. 352.0778 B244S
- Cassella, William N. Jr. "City-County Separation: The 'Great Divorce' of 1876." The Missouri Historical Society Bulletin 15 (Jan 1959). R 977.8 G5591/15 Oct 1958-Jul 1959
- Terry, Dickson. Clayton: A History. Clayton, Mo.: Von Hoffmann Press, 1976. R 977.865 T329C