Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925.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 Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book.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The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care.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Services Available in the Historical Document Room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Historical Documents Available Online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.

Case of the month: Case of the courageous suffragette

Judge Mark Davidson

Next month will mark the 100th Anniversary of the first Presidential election following the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which states that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex. The adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution followed a long effort by women and their male advocates for what we today consider a basic right of all citizens.

Long lost in the archives of the District Clerk’s Office and the records of the 80th District Court is a lawsuit that made the theoretical right of women to vote come to reality. Without the effective action by a very skilled attorney and swift action by a judge, women might have had to wait four years after adoption of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to actually be able to vote. The case is therefore one of significance.

In 1920, Texas required its citizens to pay a poll tax of $1.00 every other year for the right to be able to vote. The tax was required to be paid before February 1st of the year in which the election took place. The 19th Amendment was ratified by the requisite number of states on August 18th, 1920, and took effect immediately. The problem for Texas women was that they had not been allowed to pay poll taxes before February 1st, and therefore, it was claimed they could not vote in November of 1920. Mrs. Mary F. Hinckley must have been an active suffragette, the activists for womens’ right to vote. Having heard that her precinct’s election judge, E. V. Ley, and all of the other election judges in Harris County, were not going to allow her to vote, she found a lawyer and filed a lawsuit. She did not seek to have the poll tax invalidated. She simply said that since the United States Constitution gave her an unqualified right to vote, she could not be denied that right because she had not paid a tax that she had not been allowed to pay.

Election Day was on November 2nd, 1920. On October 19th, 1920, a lawsuit was filed seeking a writ of mandamus against her election judge, and all other election judges in the county. Her choice to sue her election judge, and not the State or County, meant that Mr. Ley would have to hire a lawyer to stop her from voting. The presumably greater assets of the government would not be used to pay for attorney’s fees to deter women’s suffrage, and the costs of defense would have been paid by the election judge.

That is exactly what he did. The attorney for Mrs. Hinckley was the redoubtable Hortense Ward. She was a remarkable woman. In addition to being an active supporter of women’s suffrage, she successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature for a bill to allow women to sign contracts without their husband’s consent. Later in life, she would lead the efforts to fight the Ku Klux Klan when they tried to take over County Government. In 1926, she would serve as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court for a case by appointment of Governor Pat Neff.

Even though the lawsuit was filed only 15 days before the election, Judge J. D. Harvey, of the 80th District Court, set the matter for a hearing on October 28th. The next day, a three page opinion was filed by Judge Harvey, which declared that since women were allowed to vote, and that the Constitutional amendment had no exception or qualification to that right, then the poll tax was unconstitutional and void. Mrs. Hinckley and thousands of other Harris County women were allowed to vote. It is unlikely women’s votes made a difference. James Cox, the Democratic Presidential nominee, won Texas by 36% over Warren Harding. That misses the point, of course. They had been allowed to participate in the most fundamental of rights every American has – the right to vote. Mrs. Hinckley and her lawyer should be remembered as heroes. The file tells us of the story of two strong women who would not give up that right.

Click here to view the historic case documents for Case of the courageous suffragette