Find a Wealth of Local History at the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center

The Bruening and Kerstner Dry Goods Store, shown in this undated photograph at West Main and South High Streets (present-day Cape Girardeau County History Center) was established in 1896 in a smaller building on North High Street. William Bruening and Henry Kerstner founded the business, and Henry's son A.W. later took over as president. When William Bruening died in 1952, businesses across Jackson closed in honor of his memory and illustrious career. Photos like this one can be accessed at the Cape Girardeau County Archives Center.
Photo from the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center Archives

A brown brick building sits across Highway 61 from the county’s Administrative Building and the courthouse dedicated in 1908. It’s the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center, and from its architecture and dark-tinted windows, you might think it’s not a place to visit. But step inside to find a rich resource for anyone curious about the county’s history, its families and its broader place within the American historical context.

The Archive Center opened in 2000, after efforts by several entities to create a single repository for the county’s government records. Cape Girardeau County was settled long before Missouri’s 1821 statehood, and the Archive holds records from as early as the late 1700s. Marriage records from that time period are handwritten on tiny scraps of paper, filed neatly in acid-free folders to help extend their lifespan. Marriage records have also been digitized and are available to view on the Recorder of Deeds’ website.

In 2007, the Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society moved their extensive library on family histories and city/county histories to the Archive Center

from Riverside Regional Library. This helps provide vital context to people seeking information on family history — a lot of life happened between marks on a census-taker’s log.

I became director in 2020, and archives assistant Tiffany Fleming joined the staff in 2023.

Our collections include tax records dating to the 1820s; marriage records from 1798 to current times; county commission minutes, available for free viewing on the Archive’s website; assessors’ sheets; and some court records such as divorces and lawsuits up through 2009, Court of Common Pleas records, probate court files, naturalization records, and so on.

We also have an ongoing project to document the county’s 300-odd cemeteries outside of Cape Girardeau and Jackson city limits.

We work with genealogists from all over the country and some from overseas, title searchers, people who need proof of divorce for their Real ID, circuit court clerks, history teachers, historic preservation students and county offices, mainly. For more modern documents, I work with county offices on records management as set out by state law. Historical documents are retained permanently.

Our volunteer program provides plenty of opportunities to help make the Archive’s collection more accessible and better preserved. Volunteers work on everything from pulling staples out of civil case files, to indexing records so they’re more searchable, to documenting tiny cemeteries, to migrating digital files so they’re accessible for present and future use. We are especially interested in finding a fluent speaker of German or French to help transcribe the county’s records in those languages.

In 2020, I joined with several other leaders of research sites in the county to form the History Consortium. The Cape Girardeau County History Center and Research Annex, Jackson Heritage Association, SEMO University’s Special Collections and Archives at Kent Library, the Kellerman Foundation, the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Cape Girardeau facility, and the Cape Girardeau Heritage Museum teams(we hope to add more!) meet quarterly to talk about new happenings and how we can coordinate efforts; we have a directory of each site’s contact information and their collections. The idea is, if a researcher steps into one facility, they can access all of us. Even people who live here in the county are sometimes surprised to learn how many facilities have collections that might pertain to their family history, so we’ve joined forces to help create a more effective experience for patrons from anywhere in the world.

The Cape Girardeau County Archive Center is at 112 E. Washington St. in Jackson, open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To get in touch, contact us at or (573) 204-2332. Find us on Facebook or at our website, We are open to the public, and there is no admission fee.

Marybeth Niederkorn is the director of the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center in Jackson. She chairs the Jackson Historic Preservation Commission, is vice-president of the Jackson Heritage Association, and belongs to various organizations devoted to the county's history, including the County Genealogical Society and the County Historical Society. She writes a monthly history column for the Southeast Missourian and holds a master's degree from Southeast Missouri State University.