Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925.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 Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book.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The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care.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Services Available in the Historical Document Room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Historical Documents Available Online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

Christmas at the Courthouse in the 19th Century

Judge Mark Davidson

We live in a time in which holiday decorations start going up in stores before Halloween and in which much of December is spent preparing for the holidays to come. It is customary for most employees to get two working days (exclusive of weekends) off of work for Christmas, and another day for New Year’s Day. The last day or two before those days off are spent in office Christmas parties and general celebration. The Courthouses of our state are no exception to this trend. In Harris County, the last jury panel of the year is normally summoned on about the 15th of December. In Dallas County, the last jury panel is normally summoned a bit earlier. In Willacy County, county seat Raymondville, the last jury panel is brought in on November 2nd!

None of this is a bad thing. It would not be conducive to a fair trial for a jury to have to take a two week break, and the number of jurors who have planned vacations during the holidays would make it difficult to get a jury panel for a late December jury trial.

This was not always the case. In Nineteenth Century Houston, our court records show that cases were tried up until December 24th, and that little break in courtroom proceedings was customary for the period up to the New Year. There were a number of reasons for this schedule. First, until 1873, the judges that served the judicial system of Harris County also served at least five other counties, and spent two months in each of those counties every year. Most of the time, they would ride a circuit of spending one month in a county twice a year, although there were years in which a one month term was totally skipped. Hence, all of the judging that was going to get done in a county over a six month period had to be done in a month, and judges, attorneys, and jurors worked long hours.

In the years in which Harris County was assigned the month of December, the Court stayed in session until the docket was complete. In 1842, for example, the Court’s docket book reflects that on Saturday, December 24th, Judge Robert Morris started and finished a bench trial, a jury trial, took evidence on a default judgment, and heard a contested motion to dissolve an injunction. The record does not reflect what time court adjourned for the day, but the following Monday, December 26th, Judge Morris heard contested motions and conducted three nonjury trials. Following his work on that day, he adjourned the Harris County segment of his docket until April 10, 1843 (i). In 1852, Judge Constantine W. Buckley held court on Thursday, December 24th. The docket that day consisted of two citizenship applications, and the return of an indictment for larceny and three indictments for murder. No contested motions were heard that day, however. Buckley then adjourned court until December 30th, at which time one more citizen was sworn in, before he adjourned for the year. At the other end of the work ethic spectrum was the 1843 fall term of court. The minutes reflect that attorneys, jurors and witnesses were already on October 10th, but that Judge Patrick Jack did not appear. The Harris County Sheriff, Magnus Rodgers, called the court to order, and then recessed to the next day, and to the day after that, but the judge never showed up. Finally, on the 12th, the sheriff adjourned court until “further call”, which was six months later (ii). Perhaps the most energetic judge of the Nineteenth Century was Judge Peter Gray (iii). In the 1854 Fall term of court, Gray held court on Saturday, the 23rd of December, and tried three jury trials in one day: Hunt v. Morris, Mather v. Mather, and Mosebeck v. Richards and Company. Between those cases, he tried eight non-jury trials. Being in a holiday mood, he also granted two trial continuances.

Dedication to the job during the holiday season continued into the Twentieth Century. On December 24th, 1921, attorneys for a nineteen year old man named Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. filed a motion to remove his disabilities of minority in the 61st District Court. The motion was heard and granted on December 26th, 1921, the day after Christmas. According to legend, Judge Walter Montieth (of the 61st), Mr. Hughes and his attorney played a round of golf on Christmas Day afternoon.

Whether you are spending December celebrating victories of the last year or preparing for victories yet to come, the Case of the Month project wishes all a Happy Holiday season and a historic New Year.

i It should be noted that in 1843, Judge Robert Morris lived in Galveston. Since construction on the Gulf Freeway had not yet started, the inability to finish the December docket in Houston on the 24th likely meant that he spent Christmas in a hotel in Houston, rather than at home with his family.

ii Notwithstanding his work ethic in 1843, Patrick Jack was a hero of the Texas Revolution, fighting along William Barrett Travis at the Battle of Anahuac.

iii Peter Gray was one of the leading lights of early Houston. He was a city alderman, the District Attorney, a member of the Texas Legislature, and District and Supreme Court Judge. During the War, he served in the Confederate Cabinet and was a successful military officer. After the war, he founded the firm of Gray, Botts and Baker.

Click here to view the historic case documents for Christmas at the Courthouse in the 19th Century