Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925.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 Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book.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The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care.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Services Available in the Historical Document Room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Historical Documents Available Online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

Hollywood Comes to the DCO

Judge Mark Davidson

In 2005, the amazing Curator of the Historical Documents Room, Francisco Heredia helped me locate an 1848 file styled Emilene, a Free Woman of Color v. Jesse Bolls. The file tells a captivating story of a woman who sued for her freedom in pre-Civil War Houston, and won. After an article on her story was published, and several articles appeared about Emilene and her lawyer, Peter Gray, a local writer/playwright named Pete O’Herron wrote a screenplay modeled after the case.

In time, the case was turned into an opera that had twelve performances and was featured in an article in Texas Monthly. The play begins with two modern-day employees of the District Clerk’s office finding this file during a file moving assignment. This serves as an introduction to a flashback and the trial in which a Harris County jury found an African-American woman more credible than a Caucasian man.

Last month, Mr. O’Herron reached out to update me about his play. The story had been optioned twice to country music superstar Tim McGraw, and most recently with a production company in Hollywood that has a deal with CBS! This month, a writing team is said to be visiting the Courthouse to go over the file.

This is appropriate, since the courage it took for Emilene to take on the system of slavery in 1848 deserves remembrance and praise. She knew that if a jury had ruled against her, Bolls probably would have sold her two children to someone else to punish her for her actions. Peter Gray, the founder of the firm known today as Baker Botts deserves our praise for using his immeasurable legal talents to do the right thing, even in a society whose economy was built around slavery – the American equivalent of the Holocaust. The District Clerk’s office – then and now, deserves praise for working to preserve these records.

If and when the movie is produced and premieres, we should all celebrate that Emilene’s story is being told in a way that will make sure that future generations of Americans will know that our court system can make the world more just. It will serve as an example to all of the hardworking clerks that your work can make a difference today and for centuries to follow.

Click here to view the historic case documents for Hollywood Comes to the DCO