Genealogy: Researching Texan Ancestors
We celebrate Texas Independence Day on March 2nd, but 21 April 1836 is the date of the Battle of San Jacinto, the final battle in the Texas Revolution. The 2013 San Jacinto Day Festival and Battle Reenactment will be held on April 20th at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, and in honor of this event in history I’m going to focus on resources for researching your Texan ancestors and Texas history for this month’s post. If you want to learn more about the battle of San Jacinto or the monument, you can check out the San Jacinto Monument and Museum site, and if you’re willing to spend $4.99, the 1989 publication, The Battle of San Jacinto, has recently been turned into a book app available for purchase through iTunes.
Do you think your family has been here since before Texas was a part of the United States? If you can prove your ancestors were in Texas prior to 19 February 1846 you can apply for membership to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) or the Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT). You can read more about membership eligibility for the DRT here and for the SRT here. The Bluebonnet Branch Chapter of the DRT (meetings held in Friendswood) has had lineage day events here at Freeman the last two years in celebration of Texas Independence Day.
The Texas State Genealogical Society also offers several heritage certificates of a different sort, such as West Texas Pioneers Certificate and Descendants of Texas Rangers Certificate. They also hold an annual conference in the fall, and this year's conference will be 10/31-11/2 in Round Rock. It’s a great opportunity to hear from experienced researchers, certified genealogists, genealogy and special collections librarians, archivists and others in related fields, as well as meet other genealogists.
In order to research your ancestors in Texas, no matter how long your family has been here, there are several great sites to use, including many of those mentioned in my January post focused on beginning genealogy. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) lists here the genealogy resources they have available. Most of these are in book or microfilm format and would require a visit to TSLAC in Austin, but there are a few, such as the Index to Confederate Pension Applications and Republic of Texas Passports, that have been digitized. In the case of the Confederate Pension Applications, once you find your ancestor in the index, you can request a copy of the original record for a fee from TSLAC.
Researching land records typically has to been done in a county clerk’s office, but the Texas General Land Office’s (GLO) History and Archives site has a Land Grant Database where you can search for land records from The Spanish Collection, Republic and State Land Grants and more. Some of the records have been digitized and are available for viewing on the GLO site, but you may have to contact the GLO and request a copy of the file(s) you need for a fee. Another fabulous feature on the GLO site is the GIS Maps. On the GIS Web Mapping Viewer Feature you can search original Texas land surveys by file number or county and abstract number. You’ll see the name of the original grantee on that abstract and the surrounding abstracts, which is extremely helpful as it gives you an idea of who their neighbors might have been. You can look at the map with street, aerial, hybrid, topographical or blank view.
Family Search has a collection of Texas specific records, many of which are actual digitized records, such as Texas Deaths (New Index, New Images) 1890-1976, which are indexed, and Texas, County Tax Rolls, 1846-1910, which is only 13% indexed. Access to these records is free, but you must register with them. Handbook of Texas Online is a great reference site for people, places and events in Texas history. You can look up a specific town or county and get information on its history which can be useful for helping to determine why your ancestors might have moved to or from a certain location.
The Portal to Texas History is a collaborative effort amongst many Texas libraries, archives and special collections which is hosted by the University of North Texas Libraries. One of the collections I’ve found most useful is the newspaper collection – there are many small town newspapers that have been digitized and added to the Portal to Texas History, so you might find an obituary or an article that mentions one of your ancestors.
One last site I’ll mention is not specific to Texas, but is one I’ve also found extremely useful, and that’s the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. This online atlas is a project by the William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago. It covers all 50 states and gives you an interactive map that shows shifting county boundaries, as well as individual county chronologies, historical commentary and more. It’s definitely a resource worth checking out, especially if you have ancestors who may have lived near a shifting county line.