Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925. These court records are not just paper, they are valuable sources of Texas' and Houston’s history. Some of the most badly deteriorated records have been restored and preserved by the Harris County District Clerk's Office. Those efforts have been honored with a 2004 Good Brick Award from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

What Can I do to Help Save Harris County’s History?

The Harris County District Clerk’s Office has teamed with the Houston Bar Foundation to raise the funds needed to continue restoring and preserving Harris County’s past. The Houston Bar Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations to preserve records. We do not suggest an amount for your donation as any amount is greatly helpful and appreciated.

Checks can be made payable to: Houston Bar Foundation Records Preservation and mailed to P.O. Box 4651, Houston, TX 77210. For a contribution form to include with your check, please click here.

In addition to preserving case files, bound volumes such as criminal case indexes, minute books, fee docket books and accounting books from as early as the Republic of Texas days are being saved. Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book. Donors who contribute an amount necessary to preserve one entire book may, if they wish, be recognized on the spine or outside cover of the book. Standard wording for such recognition will be, “In memory of _________,” “Graciously donated by ________,” etc. Other wording desired by the donor will be taken into consideration.

The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care. They are unfolded, pacified, then encapsulated in special Mylar plastic sheets to protect them from further damage caused by exposure to air and moisture. The process being used will preserve these records for up to 300 years and prevent further deterioration of our historical records.

Services Available in the Historical Document Room

  • Public viewing of original documents
  • Requested copies for $1.00 per page

Historical Documents Available Online

As a public service, the documents that are made available over the Web are provided at no charge. Please note, while the clarity of some of the documents is exceptional, the quality of others is poor. This is directly related to the quality of the original document as well as the penmanship of the scribe in some instances. Click below to begin viewing these priceless historical documents.
 

View Online

Historical Case Of The Month

The Honorable Judge Mark Davidson has been instrumental in the development of the Harris County District Court Historical Document Project. An avid legal history buff, Judge Davidson continues to write and serve as a special advisor to the ongoing Case Of the Month articles.

The judge that declared Thanksgiving Day in Harris County Judge Mark Davidson

The origin of the Thanksgiving holiday in Harris County goes back to 1860. Texas Governor Sam Houston signed a proclamation stating that November 29 of that year was to be a day of thanksgiving and prayer. Houston was trying to show leadership at a time in which many Texans were in despair over the results of the Presidential election. Abraham Lincoln had been elected earlier that month in a campaign in which he opposed the institution of slavery. Talk of secession from the Union by the Southern states was in the air. Houston opposed secession, and was trying to keep tempers from flaring.

The origin of the Thanksgiving holiday in Harris County goes back to 1860. Texas Governor Sam Houston signed a proclamation stating that November 29 of that year was to be a day of thanksgiving and prayer. Houston was trying to show leadership at a time in which many Texans were in despair over the results of the Presidential election. Abraham Lincoln had been elected earlier that month in a campaign in which he opposed the institution of slavery. Talk of secession from the Union by the Southern states was in the air. Houston opposed secession, and was trying to keep tempers from flaring.

Thanksgiving Day was then not observed during the Civil War. The next time anyone would honor the day occurred in 1866 in, of all places, the Eleventh District Court of Harris County. Previously, the year 1863 was undoubtedly the turning point of the civil war. The first week of July saw the Union victorious at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The outcome of the battle of Gettysburg stopped the last incursion of Confederate soldiers into the North. The battle of Vicksburg led to the western Confederacy being cut off from the eastern states. Both were of immense military significance.

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation ordering the fourth Thursday in November as a Day of Thanksgiving to be honored by “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” (i). The tradition of an annual National Day of Thanksgiving continued for a number of years by Presidential proclamation until it was declared a national holiday by an Act of Congress in 1941.

Thanksgiving as a holiday was a little slow to catch on as a tradition in the South. Most Southerners saw very little to be thankful about in 1863, or in the years following the war. After the war, almost any proclamation made by Lincoln was unpopular with the ex-Confederates. There is no record of any celebration of Thanksgiving in 1865, even though the South had surrendered.

In April of that year, the Union government had imposed martial law over the land. The first public record of a commemoration of Thanksgiving Day in Houston came on Thursday, November 29, 1866. It appears in the minutes of the Eleventh District Court. Judge John Kennard was scheduled to begin the Fall term of Court on Monday, November 26.

He did not appear in court that day, apparently to the consternation of the lawyers who came to take advantage of the second of his two one-month terms in Harris County. The Court minutes indicate that the sheriff called court to order and adjourned it three straight days, awaiting Judge Kennard’s arrival in Houston.

On Thursday, Judge Kennard appeared and began the term of court by determining that only ten men had appeared for jury duty, which obviously was an insufficient number of jurors. He immediately fined all of the absent jurors 50 dollars, and ordered the sheriff to select fourteen individuals and summon them for jury duty the next morning.

Having a docket of jury trials and no jurors, Kennard immediately decided that a day of Thanksgiving was in order and adjourned court. The minutes reflect that the Judge said: “It is ordered, in observance of the day, it being set apart as a national Day of Thanksgiving by the President, that Court adjourn tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.” How many of the ten jurors that reported celebrated the rest of their day is unknown. It appears from the court records that the next day the twenty-four jurors that honored the amended call of the court sat in three jury trials, and stayed on to perform their civic duty in seven more trials the next week. One suspects that they looked back on Houston’s first Thanksgiving with little relish, let alone cranberry sauce.

The Case of the Month project wishes all a tasty and happy Thanksgiving, secure in the knowledge that no jury trials will start the day after Thanksgiving this year!

Click here to view the historic case documents for The judge that declared Thanksgiving Day in Harris County