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Historical Document Room:

Civil Courthouse
201 Caroline, Room 200
Houston, TX 77002
Map of Downtown

Hours: Tues. & Thur., 12 - 4 p.m.
  Wed., 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Phone: 832-927-5729
Fax: 832-927-0145

Mailing Address:

Harris County District Clerk
P.O. Box 4651
Houston, Texas 77210

For additional information regarding Historical Documents, please see our Frequently Asked Questions, call 832-927-5860 or e-mail us.

Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925.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 Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book.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The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care.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

THE BEGINNING OF OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM

Today, we work in our air-conditioned buildings in the Courthouse complex and work hard to meet the needs of the millions of people that live in Harris County. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to be present at the founding of our system of justice, or what it was like when there was no electricity, running water, and only a handful of lawyers. Book “A” of the minutes of the 11th District Court tell the story.

Monday, March 21, 1837, was the first day that a court of the Republic of Texas met. The minutes reflect that President Sam Houston’s proclamation creating the Court, pursuant to the laws passed by the Congress of the Republic of Texas the preceding December, was read. The Judge named by the Congress, Judge Benjamin Cromwell Franklin, called the court to order. The first thing he did was a precursor to the way every day begins today – he called the juror pool and determined who had shown up. The minutes reflect that District Clerk James Holman noted that thirty-five men (no women would be allowed on juries until 1954) were called, but that only seventeen people appeared. Some of the men were immediately named to be our first grand jury.

That day, three indictments were returned. Two of the three defendants immediately plead guilty and received fines. The third, James Adams, plead not guilty to a charge of larceny and demanded his guilt be proven. Judge Franklin, apparently being a believer in a quick trial, recessed court and announced the trial of Mr. Adams would begin the next day. And it did.

How long the trial lasted, who the witnesses were, and any details of the trial are lost to history. We are left to the names of the jurors, the fact that the juror found “the prisoner” (not the Defendant) guilty, and the specifics of the punishment assessed by the jury. A newspaper article of the time indicated that Adams was accused of stealing a pig, had given a note to the owner to attempt to pay him back, and then defaulted on the note. The jury therefore ordered the Defendant repay the owner of the pig, as well as all of the papers set forth in the indictment. They could not put the unfortunate Mr. Adams in jail since General Santa Ana had burned it down the year before and it had not yet been rebuilt. They crafted a different punishment. They ordered that the prisoner “receive thirty-nine lashes on his bare back, and be branded on the right hand with the letter T.” This verdict reflects how valuable a pig was to a family in the Harrisburg of 1837. It was a source of protein, fat for conversion to lard, and therefore cooking fat. The skin would become leather for the shoes of the owner’s children. On Wednesday, March 23, Judge Franklin adjourned Court and went on to another county in his district. When Court reconvened in October, Franklin had resigned and Judge Shelby Corzine was the judge.

i Franklin was named after his uncle, Benjamin Franklin of Revolutionary war fame.

ii Holman Street in Third Ward and Midtown Houston is named after Harris County’s first District Clerk..

Click here to view the historic case documents for THE CASE OF THE PURLOINED PIG


Saving Texas History

Saving Texas History Image Read more about the preservation process of the Historical Documents.

Public Viewing Rules and Regulations

Public Viewing Rules and Regulations image View information regarding public access and the regulations that safe guard the Historical Documents.

Online Historical Documents

Online Historical Documents image These court records are valuable sources of Texas' and Houston's history. View these priceless historical documents.