Texas Government records cover a broad range of genealogy subject areas that can help you as part of your research, such as land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalization’s. Given that Texas court records cover such a wide selection of topics, they could aid you in many different ways. As an example, they could aid you in finding ancestors’ residences, identify occupations, locate financial information, determine citizenship status, or shed light on relationships between individuals. The whole thing relies upon on the type of court records that the ancestors” names show up in. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.
Texas Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.
Texas Court Records
Throughout its history, Texas court names, functions, and jurisdictions have changed quite often. Kennedy and Kennedy, Genealogical Records in Texas discusses those changes, including jurisdictions and dates, in detail. Most Texas laws are based on English common law, but some of the state’s laws have Spanish law influences and others have been modified in various ways over the years.
The state’s supreme court is the highest court in Texas. It acted as a circuit court from 1836 to 1891, during which time it only heard appellate cases. It held three-month sessions in Tyler, Galveston, and Austin each year during that time span. The Archives Division of the Texas State Library holds state supreme court records dating from 1838 to 1940. Those records include appellate criminal and civil case documents.
The court of criminal appeals was created for the purpose of hearing criminal cases in 1891. That meant that the supreme court was only responsible for hearing civil appeals after that point in time. The Archives Division of the Texas State Library is home to the Supreme Court Record Group. It is a collection of files relating to around 4,500 different court cases. Many court files from 1840 to 1853 no longer exist today. However, there are some opinions, dockets, minute books, and case files available still. Some of the opinions have been published. However, there are no published opinions for 1844 or 1845 available. There are records from 1840 to 1844 and 1846 to 1963 available at the archives division. There is also a plaintiff index and a defendant index available for 1836 to 1893 there. Staff members can search the records, if the researcher makes a request by writing or over the phone. The researcher will check specific case file numbers and may be able to make photocopies. Although, some records are not available for photocopying due to their fragile state.
Each county in Texas has a county commissioners court. Its responsibilities include creating county budgets for roads, the poor, schools, and other purposes. It is also responsible for setting tax rates within the county. The county clerk keeps records for the county court, as well as the county commissioners court. Small counties with populations under 8,000 may also give the county clerk the responsibility of keeping district court records.
County courts have existed in Texas since 1836. However, they were temporarily abolished in 1869. District courts handled their duties from that year until 1876, when they were reinstated. Generally, misdemeanor, probate, guardianship, and civil cases are heard by county courts. The county clerk keeps all of those records, as well as marriage licenses, cattle brands, land deeds, and other documents. Naturalization records may also be part of county court documents recorded before 1906.
Each Texas county has a district court, which presides over felony trials. They also handle name changes, land title cases, and divorce cases, as well as adoptions (if they were filed after 1931). Those courts also hear probate appeals and commissioners court appeals. Divorce minutes were recorded separately throughout the 1890s. District courts also handled naturalization proceedings after 1906.
In 1845, justice of the peace courts were created in Texas. They also went by the name “poor man’s courts.” Criminal and civil cases under $00, writs and warrants were handled by them. They also were responsible for recording vital statistics in towns with populations below 2,500.
In 1855, the adjutant general’s office burned, destroying many records. A court of claims was created the following year, and it stayed in operation until 1861. It was responsible for handling land and money claims against the Republic of Texas or the State of Texas. Around 66% of those cases were denied. Applications are listed in the dockets. The GLO holds court approved records including 4,500 Headright Certificates, Over 2,000 Bounty Warrants, More Than 650 Donation Certificates, Almost 500 Scrip Certificates and Rejected Claims.
The website for the Texas Law Organizations Resource Center lists county court addresses and contact information.
The County Clerk’s Office is the record keeper of the county. The county records include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, brand registrations, DD214s (military discharges), land / real estate / property records, probate and civil filings. See Also Research In Court Records.