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.
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
- Washington-on-the Brazos
- San Antonio
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
- BLM Land Records (glorecords.blm.gov)
- Texas Land Title Abstracts
- The Old 300 Genealogical Database (bchm.org) listing of all settlers who had received land grants in Austin’s Colony
- Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas
- Texas Land Record Books (amazon.com)
- 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.
Texas Probate Records
Each county court clerk in Texas holds that county’s probate records. However, probate courts may hold records in counties with particularly high populations. Probate minutes may include a number of records that genealogical researchers can use to trace family history. Some of those records are Wills, Court Orders, Letters of Administration, Inventories, Sales, Accounts, Guardianship and Final Accounts.
District courts heard appeals from probate and county courts. The office of the county clerk did not exist between 1869 and 1876. During that time, certain probate records were filed in District Court Minutes or District Court Civil Minutes.
Several probate case indexes were published by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Those records were compiled in a reprint known as Index to Probate Cases of Texas (n.p.), which was published in the 1980s. Counties included in that collection were Atascosa, Bowie, Brazoria, Brazos, Brown, Camp, Chambers, Coleman, Delta, Franklin, Gregg, Guadalupe, Hardin, Hays, Liberty, Marion, Morris, Newton, Nolan, Orange, Robertson, Runnels, Rusk, San Saba, Shelby, Titus, Trinity, Waller, Williamson and Wood Counties.
Several wills from different counties in the state of Texas have been compiled by the Texas DAR Genealogical Records Committee. Original typescript records are also available at the Allen County Public Library and the Texas State Library.
Probate records for 30 counties in Texas were indexed as part of a WPA project. Of those, records for 11 counties have been compiled in an alphabetical listing. Rebecca Osborne, Ph.D. and a team of high school students are currently working on transferring records from more counties into an online database.See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research
- Texas Probate Record Books (amazon.com)
Texas Tax Records
Of all records kept in Texas at the county level, tax records are the most complete. The county tax assessor’s office holds those records. Although, the public accounts comptroller holds tax records through 1980.
Although fairly complete, only about 60% of males over the age of 21 who were eligible are listed in them. Native Americans and people in certain age groups were exempt from taxes. The exact ages of exemption changed throughout the years.
For example, 1840, 1862, and 1870 did not have older age exemptions. Exemptions started at age 45 from 1841 to 1844. From 1850 to 1861 exemption started at age 50. The limit was 55 in 1837, 1848, and 1849. It was raised to the age of 60 in 1871.
Ad Valorem records, which included personal property, real property, and poll tax records, can be found at Texas State Library. Those records include the years of 1836 through 1976.
Records begin at the time that each county was organized and they are arranged according to county and date and then alphabetized according to category.
Although, some records may not be completely alphabetized. The Genealogy Section holds copies of those records on microfilm. Records from the time of a county’s formation to 1901 are available through inter-library loan programs.
In 1839, an enumeration of Houston taxpayers was taken and those records are extant today. Tax records from 1901 through 1947 can be accessed, but are not available through inter-library loan programs. Researchers can also request records from 1948 through 1976.
Tax record holdings of the Texas State Library and Archives are listed on its website. Also, a transcription of the 1839 tax list, which was published by the Houston Morning Star, can be found online. See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research
Lists for various counties have been published include the following:
- Taxpayers of the Republic of Texas Covering 30 Counties and the District of Panola. Grand Prairie, Tex.: the authors, 1988.
- Republic of Texas: Poll Lists for 1846. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1974.
- 1840 Citizens of Texas. 3 vols. Austin, Tex.: the author, 1983–1988. Vols. 1 and 3 list land grants; vol. 2 includes tax rolls.
Texas Immigration & Naturalization Records
Immigrants settling in Texas who traveled by boat may have arrived at either Galveston or Indianola before traveling by land to their final destinations. Some early Texas settlers also came to New Orleans by boat and then traveled the rest of the way on land. Immigration lists can be found on microfilm in Fort Worth at the National Archives—Southwest Region. New Orleans passenger lists from 1820 to 1921 can be found at the FHL, along with Galveston passenger lists from 1846 to 1871, 1893, and 1896 to 1921. The 1896 to 1906 and 1906 to 1951 groups also have indexes available. An index of passenger lists from New Orleans up to 1952 is also housed there. There is no specific index of passengers from years earlier than 1852.
There was no naturalization requirement in the Republic of Texas. So, there are no naturalization records for years prior to 1946. District and county courts hold copies of naturalization records from 1846 to 1906. However, they may be recorded in a number of ways, such as in probate county court, or commissioners court minutes. They may even be kept completely separate in their own record volumes. Texas county district courts recorded naturalization records after 1906. Those courts and U.S. Federal District Courts kept those records from that point onward. See Also Guide to U.S. Immigration Records Research
- Texas Immigration Project (usgwarchives.net)
- A New Land Beckoned: German Immigration to Texas, 1844-1847
- A New Land Beckoned: German Immigration to Texas, 1847-1861
- Texas, Eagle Pass Arrival Manifests and Indexes, 1905-1954
- Texas, Naturalization Records, 1906-1989
- Research In Immigration & Naturalization Records (ancestry.com)
- Texas Immigration Record Books (amazon.com)
- Czech Immigration Passenger Lists. 3 vols. Hallestville, Tex.: Old Homestead Publishing Co., 1980–83. While not limited to Texas, a great many of the lists do pertain to Texas and are based on records no longer extant in Texas port of arrival records.
- The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831–1931. Austin, Tex.: Von Boeckman-Jones Co., 1931.
- Passenger Lists for Galveston, 1850–1855. Houston: the author, 1985. Based on European sources. Galveston and Indianola passenger arrivals are included.
- Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas. St. Louis: L. E. Daniels Publishers, 1890.
- Pierwsi Slazncy w Ameryce [First Silesians in America]. Opole, Poland, 1967.
- With the Makers of San Antonio. San Antonio, Tex.: Ars Graphica, 1937.
- The First Polish Colonies in America in Texas. San Antonio, Tex.: Naylor Co., 1936.
- Ships Passenger Lists, Port of Galveston, Texas, 1846–1871. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1984. Lists surviving fragments of records.
- A New Land Beckoned, German Immigration to Texas, 1844–1847. Waco, Tex.: Texian Press, 1972. These records provide coverage for the period when the Republic of Texas kept no records of immigrants arriving at its ports and complements the fragmentary records for the port of Galveston maintained by the United States.
- New Homes in a New Land, German Immigration to Texas, 1847–1861. Waco, Tex.: Texian Press, 1972. These lists are based on records in the Archives of the General Land Office. While there may be some duplication with records maintained by the federal authorities at New Orleans and Galveston, these lists are generally unique.
- The Poles in the Early History of Texas. Chicago: P.R.C.U. of A. Archives, 1936.
- Polish Past in America. Chicago: P.R.C.U. of A. Archives, 1939.
- Czech Pioneers of the Southwest. Dallas: Southwest Press, 1934.
- Tennesseans in Texas. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1986.
- Conrad County, Texas: New Braunfels, Texas, German Immigrant Ships, 1845–1846. St Louis: F. T. Ingmire, 1985.
- Texas Pioneers from Poland: A Study in the Ethnic History. Waco: Texian Press, ca. 1971.