Genealogy Resources in Texas

by Amy Coffin | Dec 11, 2012

Amy Coffin

Everything really is bigger in Texas, including the story of the state itself. Six different flags have flown over the area: France, Spain, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States of America, and Confederate States of America.

Early Texans valued historic records so much that they waged a great Archives War as opposing sides battled over the location of a new capital. Fortunately for genealogy seekers, our cup runneth over with valuable resources and records about the history of Texas and those who called it home.

Major Texas Repositories

The Texas State Archives is part of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). It maintains the official history of Texas government. The collection includes official records back to the 18th century, as well as books, journals, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, and other resources. TSLAC also maintains a handy genealogy page detailing resources of interest at its library.

Texas is the home of the National Archives at Fort Worth. The Montgomery Plaza facility holds federal population censuses, military records, pension records, Dawes cards, and enrollment packets for the Five Civilized Tribes.

Texas State Flag

The Texas General Land Office contains approximately 35 million records dating back to 1720, making it the go-to spot for area land records. Online collections include over 80,000 searchable manuscripts and lithograph maps, and an extensive set of land grant images. These include titles issued by Spain and Mexico from 1720 to 1836 and those issued by the Republic of Texas after independence from Mexico was achieved.

A discussion of major Texas resources is not complete without mention of the Portal to Texas History, a gateway to an expansive field of Texas history materials. The site is hosted by the University of North Texas libraries and includes unique holdings from libraries, archives, museums, genealogical and historical societies as well as private collections. Given the size and scope of the website, ample browsing is recommended. Explore the Portal by location, subject, date, or type of material. You may also browse by Portal to Texas History partners to discover the incredible treasures that have been contributed to the project.

Birth, Marriage and Death Records

Texas began recording births in 1903. The Texas Department of State Health Services handles birth certificate requests within the last 75 years. Texas residents with valid identification or legal proof of guardianship may order certified birth certificate copies for immediate family members. Those out of state may order their own record or those of their children if listed as a parent on the record.

Marriage and divorce records in Texas are kept at the county level, so check with the clerk in the county where the event took place. The Texas Department of State Health Services maintains a list of Texas county clerks as well as marriage license application indexes.

Texas death certificates for deaths occurring within the past 25 years are considered protected records. For that time period, you may order certified copies from the Texas Department of State Health Services with the same relationship and identification requirements as mentioned above for birth certificates.

Genealogy in Public Libraries

Texans are fortunate to have several strong genealogy collections in public libraries. The nationally recognized Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research is a branch of the Houston Public Library fully dedicated to family history materials. Dallas Public Library has a first-rate genealogy collection as well at their Jonsson Central Library.

Other notable public library holdings include the Texana Collection at the San Antonio Public Library and Border Heritage Center at the El Paso Public Library. If you have coastal ancestors or a connection to the great 1900 Galveston storm, a visit to the Galveston and Texas History Center at Rosenberg Library is in order. Many smaller public libraries have genealogy collections dedicated to the history of a given area so be sure to inquire about them when you're in town.

Area Collections and Special Repositories

Texas has several special institutions that don't fit the traditional library mold, but are of interest to family historians. The Dallas Municipal Archives has a mission to preserve the city's records, but a glimpse into their collection guides highlights the repository's historical value. The Houston Metropolitan Research Center's holdings contain millions of items in a historic building as impressive as its collection.

Head west if you want to delve into the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Research Center. Their collection includes books, manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, and more detailing history and culture in the Panhandle. If you find yourself in the southeast part of the state, the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center should be on your list. The historic Liberty location is holds significant items pertaining to Texas history as well as records for several counties in the area.

Academic Collections

When conducting family history research in the Lone Star State, don't forget to go back to school. Colleges and universities are excellent sources of information on the people and places of Texas.

The University of Texas at Austin maintains a page of its libraries' genealogy resources. The institution's Briscoe Center for American History and Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection are also assets for Texas historical research.

Houston is home to several great universities, colleges, and collections. Two notables are the Woodson Research Center at Rice University and the Heartman Collection at Texas Southern University. The latter contains over 11,000 items pertaining to the black experience in the United States and the world.

Great Texas resources can be found in all corners of the state. If your ancestors covered lots of Texas territory, Angelo State University's West Texas Collection, Stephen F. Austin University's East Texas Research Center, and University of Texas-Pan American's Lower Rio Grande Valley Collection may lead you in the right direction.

Societies of Note

When it comes to family history research, there is strength in numbers. Social and service groups are excellent ways to share interests. Fortunately in a state the size of Texas, there are plenty of societies ready to share fun, fellowship, and history.

The Texas State Genealogical Society is a vibrant statewide group dedicated to preserving and promoting the historical resources of Texas. Past issues from 1961-1990 of the society's quarterly journal Stirpes are available online. TSGS's extensive list of partner societies is a great resource for finding local genealogical and historical societies in Texas.

The Czech Heritage Society of Texas includes fifteen established chapters around the state. Their cultural center and library in LaGrange are open to the public. The German-Texan Heritage Society is a strong society and hosts an annual market, German classes, and a yearly meeting.

Those interested in Texas Jewish history should visit the Texas Jewish Historical Society website. Texas also has an active local presence in the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. Willie Lee Gay H-Town Chapter based in Spring. The group includes a strong research collection and numerous service projects.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

The Lone Star State is loosely divided into several regions based on topography. Your ancestors may have lived in the Hill Country, Pineywoods, Gulf Coast, Panhandle, or elsewhere. When researching your family tree, be sure to include searches in all repositories in a region including county courthouses, libraries, and museums.

Texans are known for their independence, determination, and grit. Adopting these characteristics in your own family history research plan will lead to success in your Texas genealogy pursuits.

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