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Genealogical Research in Texas

Genealogy Research Texas

Because of its long and eventful history, there are many historical and genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in Texas. Because of the abundance of information held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping you to understand:

  • What they are
  • Where to find them
  • How to use them

These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in Texas. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Lone Star State” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your Texas ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of Texas

Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda was the first European to enter Texas when he sailed into the mouth of the Rio Grande in 1519. The Spanish considered Texas too far away from their colonies in the Mexico highlands and Florida however, and it wasn’t until more than 160 years later that the first settlement was established at Ysleta del Sur in 1682. almost a decade before the earliest East Texas missions. But was 500 mi (800 km) from anything else resembling a settlement in Texas, and the Spanish considered it a part of New Mexico. Even then Ysleta was so remote that the Spanish considered it a part of New Mexico.

The establishment of Ft. St. Louis by La Salle on the Gulf coast in 1685 changed the attitude of the Spanish towards the colonization of Texas, and in 1689 Capt. Alonso de León authorized an expedition to expel the French. A Coahuilan priest, Father Damien Massanet, accompanied the León expedition and was ordered to establish a mission near wherever a fort was built. Over the next several decades the two men and those who succeeded them established a string of mission-forts across Texas. In 1718, the Spanish commenced building a fort, San Antonio de Bexar, and a mission, San Antonio de Valero, at the site of the present city of San Antonio.

The US had shown no interest in Texas until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. With Louisiana a neighbor to Texas, the era of the "filibusters" (military adventurers) arose. The filibusters began to filter across the border into Spanish territory, and although they were mostly trading horses with the Native Americans, the Spanish saw them as a threat to Spanish sovereignty. These filibusters, along with pirates and various Anglo-Americans would play an important part in the Mexican Revolution for the independence of Texas from 1810-1821.

After the Spanish deserted Texas in 1821, it became a province of Mexico. San Antonio and Goliad were the only towns of significance, and the population was made up mostly of Native Americans. In 1820, Moses Austin of Missouri had been given permission by Spanish authorities to introduce Anglo-American settlers into Texas, presumably as a protection against aggression by the United States. The new Mexican government upheld the agreement, and soon three hundred families were settled in the area between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. Others soon followed, and between 1821 and 1835 the non-Indian population had risen from 7,000 to between 40,000 and 50,000.

Religious and social unrest between the Anglo-American immigrants and the Mexicans led to the Mexican Congress enacting the Law of 1830, which forbade the majority of immigration and imposed duties on all imports. The Texan Anglos reacted with much the same anger as the New Englanders had once done when England imposed severe and unfair taxes on the original American colonies. The Anglo-Texans insisted they were not opposing the Mexican nation, but rather Mexican political excesses. They put their hope in Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was leading a liberal revolution against then Mexican President Anastasio Bustamante.

In 1833 Santa Anna became president of Mexico and almost immediately dropped his liberal position. The Texans sent Stephen F. Austin, who had succeeded his late father as head of the colonization movement to Mexico City to petition Santa Anna to strike the Law of 1830, to allow English to be used to conduct public business, and to make Texas a separate state. Austin was arrested on his way back to Texas and imprisoned for a year. Santa Anna attempted to enforce customs collections but his officials were resisted by colonists led by William Barret Travis, drove the Mexican officials out of the town of Anahuae. Santa Anna responded by placing Texas under military jurisdiction, and when Mexican soldiers attempted to take a cannon from colonists in the town of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, the Texas Revolution began.

The Texans formed a provisional government and sent three commissioners to Washington D.C to request aid form the United States. The Mexican army crossed the Rio Grande in 1836 and focused on a mission-fort known as the Alamo. There, 187 Texans under the command of Colonel William Barret Travis, prepared to resist the Mexican onslaught. The defenders held off the Mexican forces until March 6 and only succumbed after 4,000 troops stormed the fort, ending with the death of every defender, including twp American legends – Davy Crockett and James Bowie.

Texas issued a declaration of independence four days after the battle, and when 342 Texans who had surrendered to Santa Anna’s forces at Goliad on the 27 March 1836, were slaughtered instead of treated as prisoners of war, the Texan fight for independence intensified. At San Jacinto (modern day Houston), 800 Texans under the command of Sam Houston surprised the Mexican army numbering 1,600 during their siesta period. The Mexicans lost 630 soldiers with a further 280 wounded, and the remainder taken prisoner. Texan losses were 9 killed and 30 wounded. It was at this decisive victory, which freed Texas from Mexico forever, that the famous battle cry “Remember the Alamo” was born.

For 10 years Texas struggled as an independent republic, its debt increasing ten-fold during that period, and it wasn’t until joining the Union on 19 February 1846 that any hope of prosperity existed. That hope lasted only until the coming of the Civil War, at which time Texas followed its southern neighbors into the Confederacy. Little fighting took place on Texas soil during the war, though the last battle at Palmito Ranch near Brownsville took place on Texas ground on May 13, 1865. Amazingly that was more than one month after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox House in Virginia. A military force governed Texas briefly during Reconstruction, and then by a Republican regime. It was during this period that the so-called carpetbag constitution was passed in 1869 giving the franchise to blacks, which in turn gave rise to a group determined to deny them that right, the Ku Klux Klan.

Texas was readmitted to the union on March 30, 1870, and a new constitution was approved in 1976. Developments in the cattle industry saw the Texas economy flourish, and the discovery of the Spindletop oil field—the state's first gusher—in 1901, and the subsequent development of the petroleum and petrochemical industries, brought immense riches to the area.

  • Important Dates in Texas History
    • 1641 – Spanish Governor appointed for Texas
    • 1682 – First settlement established at Ysleta del Sur near modern day El Paso
    • 1700 – Mission of San Juan Bautista founded
    • 1749 – Laredo founded
    • 1813 – Spain crushes rebellion for independence at San Antonio
    • 1821 – Ceded from Spain to Mexico
    • 1836 – Battle of the Alamo, Texas becomes a Republic
    • 1845 – Statehood
    • 1861 – Secedes from Union (February 1)
    • 1870 – Readmitted to Union (March 30)

Famous Battles Fought in Texas

Ultimately the most famous battle fought on Texas soil was the Battle of the Alamo, fought between Mexican troops and Texans in 1836. Other important battles during the Texan War for Independence were the Battle of Refugio, March 14 1836, and the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836.

The battle accounts that exist can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men.

Common Texas Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching Texas ancestors. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of Texas.

Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.

Texas Genealogical Organizations and Archives

Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.

Texas Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – county records, census, manuscripts, historical newspapers, maps, photographs, Native American index, surname list, military name index

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas State University – manuscript collections, literary papers, diaries and journals, photographs, broadsides, maps, audio visual items, oral histories, and printed material.

      University Archives
      Farrell Library
      Manhattan, KS 66506
      Tel: (913) 532-7456

Additional Texas Genealogical Resources

Texas Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on Texas genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Texas Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.

Texas Message Boards

A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the Texas Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

Texas Newspapers and Periodicals

Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills.

  • Texas newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – African American publications, Civilian Conservation Corps, Labour Populist publications, Socialist publications, Territorial period newspapers, History of Kansas newspapers from1916

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas Heritage Center – most of the newspapers published in Dodge City from 1876 to the present and newspapers from several other Kansas towns.

      PO Box 1207
      Dodge City KS 67801-1207
      Tel: 620-227-1616
      Fax: 620-227-1701

    • – free searchable database of Kansas newspaper archives, 1841-1981
    • Library of Congress Digital Newspaper Directory – free searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers dating from 1690-present
    • The Online Books Page – links to historical books and periodicals available for viewing online, dating from mid-16th century
    • – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.

Historical Texas Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in.

For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research.

Texas City Directories

City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in Texas is the Texas Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available historical directory related to Texas.

Texas Genealogical Records

Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories and websites where you can find Texas vital records

Texas began recording official records of births and deaths in 1911. Marriage licenses were required starting in 1867, but not filed at state level until 1913.

  • Copies of vital records after those dates must be requested from the:
    • Kansas Office of Vital Statistics

      Charles B. Curtis State Office Building
      1000 SW Jackson Street
      Suite 120
      Topeka, KS 66612-1221
      Tel: 785-296-1400.

    • Kansas Genealogical Society – various historical vital records

      KGS, PO Box 103
      Dodge City, KS 67801-0103
      Tel: (620) 225 - 1951

    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – extensive collection of vital records dating from pre-territorial times

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

Marriage and Divorce Records

Marriages prior to May 1913 were recorded in the district county courts where the marriage took place. Texas marriage licenses did not include the names of the parents unless the bride or groom was underage. Records can be found at:

Divorce records from 1861 until July 1951 were recorded in the Texas District Courts.

Copies of official divorce records after July 1951 can be ordered from the Texas Office of Vital Statistics.

Census Reports

Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.

Texas Church Records

Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them.

Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records.

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.

Texas Military Records

More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.

Texas Cemetery Records

As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:

  • Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
  • The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
  • Databases that can be searched online for Texas Cemetery records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Access Genealogy – huge database of Texas cemetery record transcriptions
    • Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
    • - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
    • Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.

Texas Obituaries

Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our Texas Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Texas newspapers online for free.

Texas Wills and Probate Records

The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors.

Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.

Texas probate records have been recorded by the probate division clerks of the Texas District Courts and include dockets, wills, oaths, inventories, letters, bonds, appraisements, accounts, court orders, claims, and final settlements.

Texas Immigration and Naturalization Records

The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

Most overseas immigrants came to Texas through east coast ports such as New, and then traveled by railway to Texas. Earlier immigrants landed at New Orleans and then traveled by steamboats upriver to Texas. The U.S. National Archives has passenger lists or indexes of American ports for 1820 to 1940, as well as immigration and naturalization records for the entire United States. These records can also be accessed at the National Archives Regional Branch in Texas City

Texas Native American Records

Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Texas Ancestors

Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in Texas where traditional records may not reveal them.


  • Women in Early Texas, Evelyn M. Carrington (Jenkins Publishing Co., 1975)
  • We Just Toughed it Out: Women Heads of Household on the Llano Estacado, 1880-1935, Georgellen Burnett (Texas Western Press, 1989)
  • Claiming Their Own Land: Women Homesteaders in Texas, Florence C. Gould (Texas Western Press, 1991)
  • Concealed Under Petticoats: Married Women’s Property and the Law of Texas, 1840-1913, Kathleen E. Lazarou (Garland Publishing, 1986)
  • Read All About Her! Texas Women’s History: A Working Bibliography, Elizabeth Snapp (Texas Women’s University Press, 1996)

Selected Resources for Texas Women’s History

Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library
PO Box 1401
San Antonio, TX 78295-1401

Foundation for Women’s Resources
3500 Jefferson, Suite 210
Austin, TX 78731

Women’s Collection
Blagg-Huey Library
Texas Women’s University
TWU Station
Box 23925
Denton, TX 76204

Common Texas Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in Texas and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.

Adams, Allison, Allman, Anthony, Armstrong, Arney, Arny, Arrowood, Arthurs, Asbill, Ashford, Austin, Bailey, Baldwin, Barfield, Barlow, Baugus, Beaslely, Bennett, Bertram, Bigbee, Binkley, Bird, Blackwell, Blanchard, Bloom, Boggess, Boggus, Boyer, Bradley, Bradshaw, Bragg, Brandon, Breanon, Brice, Bridges, Bridgett, Brondon, Brooking, Brooks, Brown, Brtram, Buchanan, Buchannon, Bumpass, Bunch, Burk, Burton, Cain, Callahan, Calloway, Campbell, Carr, Carroll, Cartlidge, Cartwright, Cates, Caudle, Cayle, Chapman, Chappell, Clark, Clements, Coble, Cockrell, Collier, Cook, Cooper, Copeland, Cornelius, Cowden, Cox, Dalton, Daniels, Davis, Dawson, Dixon, Dodson, Donnelson, Doyle, Dunbar, Duncan, Dunkin, Dyer, Easley, Easterling, Eberhart, Elden, Ellen, Elliott, Elmore, Erskine, Estell, Fickling, Finney, Foster, Francis, Freeman, Garcia, Gibson, Graham, Graves, Green, Griffith, Grimsby, Guinn, Haines, Hamilton, Hampton, Handy, Hankinson, Harris, Harvick, Hayman, Haymon, Head, Henderson, Higgins, Hill, Hindman, Holt, Hopkins, Hoskins, Huffman, Hull, Hunkapillar, Hunsucker, Hunt, Hunter, Ingram, Jackson, Jacquess, Jenson, Johns, Johnson, Jones, Jowers, Keathley, Keener, Keesee, Keithley, Kelley, Kelton, Kent, Key, King, Kiser, Knox, Lance, Lane, Langford, Langley, Lassetter, Layos, Layton, Lee, Leslie, Lewis, Limmer, Lindsay, Littrell, Lloyd, Looney, Lowery, Lyles, Mann, Mason, Matis, McCarty, McCommas, McCormack, McCurdy, McDaniel, McDaniels, McDonald, Mcfarland, McGarrah, McGee, McKeller, McRae, Miller, Mitchell, Moffitt, Moiser, Monetti, Moore, Moser, Mosier, Moss, Nail, Nalle, Newland, Norris, Norse, Norseworthy, O'Ryain, Osborn, Pardue, Parish, Parrish, Patterson, Payton, Pearson, Pearsons, Peters, Pharaoh, Phelts, Pierce, Plunk, Pointer, Pomeroy, Powles, Price, Race, Ramsey, Rangham, Rasmusson, Ray, Reel, Reese, Reinhardt, Renfro, Rhea, Rhod, Richardson, Richie, Riddick, Roberts, Robertson, Rogers, Rose, Sabra, Sarceda, Scarbrough, Schmid, Seip, Sheets, Shuford, Sims, Sipes, Sizemore, Smith, Snider, Spann, Specht, Spicer, Spies, Spooner, Spouse, Spradlin, Steel, Stimpson, Stone, Stracener, Sullivan, Summitt, Sursa, Susan, Sutton, Symons, Tangren, Taylor, Tennyson, Thomas, Trae, Trammble, Trammell, Treadway, Trimble, Trimmer, Turner, Unknown, Vail, Vance, Viles, Wale, Walker, Wallace, Walton, Watson, Watts, Weaver, Weekley, Welch, Wells, White, Whitefield, Whitehead, Wilcoxson, Williams, Williant, Wilson, Windsor, Winebrinner, Withem, Woody, Wright, Young, Zimmerman

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