Monday, April 19, 2010

Court Records Task Force

As I mentioned on February 8, recently the Supreme Court commissioned a new task force dedicated to the preservation of court records. Their work has begun in earnest and I must say it is fascinating to witness.

These are records that have been generally underappreciated and in some instances, ignored, for over 150 years. These archives include documents pertaining to the Republic of Texas; slavery; the Civil War; Reconstruction; early conflicts between ranchers and farmers; the early days of the railroads and the energy industry, and numerous documents involving famous Texans from Sam Houston to Leon Jaworski. Some of these records are being stolen and put on ebay. Others are crumbling or being eaten by pests.

For example, a task force member reports that he found in the Harris County court archives a deposition on written questions of Charlotte Allen from 1870, when she was very old. Her money was used to purchase the land that became the City of Houston, and she was the first woman to live in Houston (and she was the one who named the town "Houston"). The deposition centered on her recollections of the early property ownership of the City, and how the Allen Brothers (one of whom was her husband) sold off their land rights.

Soon the task force will send out a survey to the court clerks around the state, as a major part of information gathering on the current state of affairs. They are also working to engage university students to write papers based on court case records from different counties, illustrating the rich history that is available from these records.

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