State Courthouse Records
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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.

State Court Records
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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.

State Land Records
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Texas Land Records

Several government jurisdictions created Texas land records. Those government jurisdictions included the Republic of Texas, the State of Texas, Mexico, and Spain. In 1836, when Texas was a republic, 11 land districts were formed. Each one included several counties. A central GLO was also created at that time. It was located in Austin. A district office was soon formed by the Red River. Other offices were formed in the following locations:

  • San Augustine
  • Liberty
  • Nacogdoches
  • Matagorda
  • Washington-on-the Brazos
  • Cameron
  • Bastrop
  • Gonzales
  • San Antonio
  • Victoria

After Texas gained its statehood, land districts remained in place and previous land grants were still honored. Almost 150 million acres were distributed after 1836 in Texas.

Since Texas was not a federal public land state, there were no original federal government records of land distribution. However, all early land grant records can be found at the Texas GLO. Those records date back to the 1700s and include both state and republic records. For information on those records and the indexes for them, researchers can write to the Stephen F. Austin State Office Bldg., Rm. 800, 1700 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701-1495. It may take up to two weeks to receive a response and a small fee will have to be paid.

Several headright grants were issued in Texas to encourage people to move to the area. However, neither Native Americans nor African Americans received any of those grants. Individuals and families who settled in the area from 1836 to 1842 received grants issued by Texas. Mexican and Spanish grants were issued to settlers who came to the areal before March 2, 1836. Land allotments were 1/3 league for single men, which equaled 1,476 acres. Families received one league and one labor, which equaled 4,605.5 acres. Those arriving between March 2, 1836 and October 1 1837 received second-class headright grants. Those land allotments were 640 acres for single men or 1,280 acres for families. Anyone accepting one of those grants had to agree to reside on the land for at least three years. Those who settled in the area between October 2, 1837 and January 1, 1840 were given third-class headright grants. Those people were given land grants half the size of those given to the second-class grant recipients, but they were still subject to the 3-year residency requirement. Those who settled in the area between January 1, 1840 and January 1, 1842 were given fourth-class headright grants. The acreage amounts were the same as those given to the third-class grant recipients. Some residents of Mercer, Castro, Fisher-Miller, and Peters colonies received those fourth-class headright grants.

Squatter grants, which were also known as pre-emption grants, were issued in the state of Texas from January 22, 1845 to 1854. Each one was for 320 acres or less. Those who received them had to agree to live on the land for at least three years after January of 1845. Married men were to receive no more than 160 acres after 1854. Single men were to receive no more than 80 acres after 1870. 1898 was the last year that squatter grants were issued.

Those who served in the military for the Republic of Texas were issued bounty grants between 1837 and 1888. Acreage varied greatly due to changes in the requirements made by many different legislatures over the years. After 1881, grants were also given to surviving veterans and widows. However, each person was only to receive one grant. Disabled Confederate veterans and those who participated in building roads, mills, factories, canals, or railroads received public land through the distribution of scrip.

Many individuals had contract grants with either the State of Texas or, before that, the Republic of Texas. The individuals in question were given land in exchange for creating colonies in Texas. Contractors received large land grants, while single men received 320 acres and heads of families were given 640 acres.

The work of miller describes all of the disposition and acquisition of Texas lands up until 1970. That includes a discussion of legislation related to fraudulent land claims. Researchers should also consult Gillford E. White The First Settlers in

[County], Texas, copied from originals in the GLO. Although Ingmire Publications published most of those, some were published by other sources. Microfilmed copies of land sales from the federal government to individual people through the 1900s can be found at the state land office. Counties hold land sale documents, except for records of original land sales, which can be found at the state level.

Researchers need to be aware that the boundaries of many Texas counties have changed over the years. In order to track down land grant records for a particular piece of land, the individual must determine which county that land was part of at the time of the land sale or transfer. County names have also changed over the years. However, grantee and grantor indexes are available and can be quite helpful for pinpointing information. Separate volumes of land grant transcriptions from parent counties are also available in some cases. Each county clerk’s office holds mortgages, deeds, and land transaction records for that county. The Department of Agriculture, Century of Agriculture Program, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, TX 78711 holds records for all lands that stayed in the same family for at least 100 years. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research

Further Reading

    • Abstract of Land Claims: Compiled from the Records of the General Land Office. Galveston: Civilian Book Office, 1852. Arranged alphabetically in districts, lists grants from Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the state.
    • Abstracts of Land Titles of Texas Comprising the Titled, Patented, and Located Lands in the State. 1878. Reprint. San Augustine, Tex.: S. Malone, 1985. County arrangement for the period 1833 to 1877.
    • An Abstract of the Original Titles of Records in the General Land Office. 1838. Reprint. Austin, Tex.: Pemberton Press, 1964. Details headright grants for 1791 to 1836.
    • Abstract of All Original Grants and Locations Comprising Texas Land Titles to August 32, 1945. 8 vols. Supplements A, B, C, D, E, F, G, & H. 8 vols. Austin, Tex.: General Land Office, 1945–80.
    • History and Disposition of Texas Public Domain. Austin, Tex.: GLO, 1945.
    • Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Chihuahuan Acquisition. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1971. Covers the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Reeves, Jeff Davis, Pecos, Presidio, and Brewer in Texas plus six more in adjacent New Mexico.
    • Abstract of Valid Land Claims Compiled from the Records of the General Land Office and Court of Claims of the State of Texas. Austin, Tex.: J. Marshall, 1859.
    • Nacogdoches Headrights: A Record of the Disposition of Land in East Texas and in Other Parts of that State, 1838–1848. New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1977.
    • Claiming Their Land: Women Homesteaders in Texas. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1991.
    • Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas, 1835–1888. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1967.
    • The Public Lands of Texas 1519–1970. Norman, Okla.: Oklahoma University Press, 1971. Excellent source describing Texas land records and land history.
    • Texas Confederate Scrip Grantees, C.S.A. N.p., 1985.
    • Republic of Texas Second Class Headrights, March 2, 1836–October 1, 1837. Houston: A. N. W. Barnes, 1974.
    • History of Texas Land. Austin, Tex.: GLO, 1964.
    • Royal Land Grants North of the Rio Grande, 1777–1821: Early History of Large Grants Made by Spain to Families in Jurisdiction of Reynosa Which Became a Part of Texas after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848. Rio Grande City, Tex.: La Retama Press, 1969. Concerns suits recorded in deed books containing the chain of title and lines of descent and heirship for the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, Brooks, Kleberg, and Nueces. Includes maps.
    • Spanish Archives of the General Land Office of Texas. Austin, Tex.: Lone Star Press, 1955.
    • The Texas Family Land Heritage Registry. 10 vols. Austin, Tex.: Texas Department of Agriculture (1974– ). These are accounts of farms that have been in agricultural production for a century or more in the same family (not limited to agnate descents) and as such are rich in genealogical detail.
    • Guide to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in South Texas. Austin, Tex.: Texas General Land Office, 1988.
    • Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1989.
    • 1840 Citizens of Texas. 3 vols. Austin, Tex.: the author, 1983–88. Volumes 1 and 3 list land grants; volume 2 includes tax rolls and name index to volume 2.
    • Stephen F. Austin’s Register of Families from the Originals in the General Land Office, Austin, Texas. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1989.

State Probate Records