Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925.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 Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book.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The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care.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Services Available in the Historical Document Room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Historical Documents Available Online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

Judge Mark Davidson

This is being written at a time in which the novel coronavirus has hopefully peaked in our community, and in which our system of justice is operating without jurors and with limited in-person hearings at the Courthouse. The precautions being taken are wise, but they are not unprecedented in the history of our County. In the County’s first seventy-five years, there were numerous epidemics that swept through our community, all with tragic results.

Yellow Fever, so named because an affected individual would become jaundiced, swept through Houston numerous times. Originating in Africa, the mosquitoes that carried the fever arrived in Texas aboard slave ships. Yellow Fever caused many deaths during the summers.

One of the epidemics, in 1867, resulted in ten percent of the population of the city of Houston dying. Fortunately, in those days, the District Court only was in session in Harris County in March and November, which was not prime mosquito season.

By 1873, things had changed. The population of the city had grown to the point that the County had a judge who sat here virtually all year. A September term of Court had been authorized by law, and Judge James Masterson announced that he would hold Court. Judge Masterson was new to the bench and eager to administer justice.

Sadly, Yellow Fever swept through Galveston, killing several hundred people. To prevent the same thing from happening here, a group of distinguished members of the Houston bar filed a motion for continuance to seek postponement of the judicial proceedings until the problem had subsided. The first name on the petition, Thomas Botts was, of course, one of the founders of the firm of Baker Botts.

Just as the clerks, lawyers, and litigants made it through epidemics past, we will do the same today.

We will, as recently stated by Queen Elizabeth II, “Take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return; we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again."

Click here to view the historic case documents for Justice In A Time Of Epidemic