Evidence of Ownership Markings

Related Links
Republic-era Missing List | Materials Missing | Sale of Government Records

If you think that a document in your possession might be one of those noted in the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) missing list, you should check the document to see if one or both of the markings noted below are evident. 

1. Many of the documents transferred to the custody of the State Archives at the turn of the twentieth century were embossed with a seal, approximately ½ inch in diameter and bearing the letters "T.S.L." at the top and "M.S." at the bottom of the circle. The seal was embossed usually about the second or third line of text in the document.

Over the last 35-40 years TSLAC has successfully recovered a number of documents removed illegally from the State Archives and discovered that in many instances unscrupulous individuals have removed all evidence of the seal by rubbing or abrading the embossed area even to the point of tearing holes in the document. In some cases that portion of the document bearing evidence of the stamp was cut out completely.

2. Nineteenth-century documents maintained in the Secretary of State's office were typically folded into thirds or fourths, resulting in documents approximately 3 inches wide. On the outside of the folded documents, usually in the center fold areas, the clerk would "endorse" the items with any or all of the following:

  • Name of the correspondent
  • Name of the recipient
  • Date of the document
  • Content of the Document (or its official title, if a legislative act or ordinance)
  • Date the document's content was recorded in a Secretary of State record book
  • Any other disposition of the document

Often the documents were then labeled in iron gall ink with file and box number designations on the bottom third of the endorsement side. Placement of the designations was not always consistent and may appear elsewhere on other documents. The numbers have turned a dark brown over the years, and are usually very bold.

Here again, however, in an effort to eliminate evidence that the document was in the state's custody individuals may either have placed a patch over the area bearing the Secretary of State's numbers or cut off that endorsement area entirely and replaced it with a patch. The document might also be missing the endorsement page altogether. Images from a recovered document illustrate the patch method. Behind the patch, the file number can barely be seen, from the front or back of the document. We have also provided a close-up image that allows you to see file number 1754 (reversed) from the back of the page opposite the signature of William Barret Travis.

In addition to the categories described above, there is another important group of documents which have been targeted by thieves in the past. In the early 1970s a large cache of original case files was stolen from the Texas Supreme Court by a porter who worked in the Supreme Court Building where the records were stored. Over the course of several months the thief managed to steal more than a thousand case files, dating from 1840-1892. During that same time he sold many of the files to numerous rare book and document dealers around the country. A few of the stolen records were recovered at the time of his arrest in 1973 and were later returned to the court. With the assistance of the State Library and Archives Commission, the Texas Supreme Court was able to recover some 115 additional files in 1978. In 1982 the court decided to transfer the case files for the period in question to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for permanent retention in the State Archives. In May 1988 the State Archivist was able to recover from a manuscript dealer an additional 32 case files. This means there are still hundreds of files that have not been recovered.

In 1944 all of the case files stolen from the Texas Supreme Court were stamped by the court's employees with a new case file number, usually in red ink, that was preceded by the letter "M." Regrettably only a few pages within the file were stamped with this "M-number." Typically the contents of the files were folded in thirds. The "M-number" was usually stamped on the middle panel of the tri-fold on the reverse or outside pages of several documents comprising the file; e.g., on the reverse of the last page of the copy of the trial court proceedings, the briefs, the motions, or the opinions. Unfortunately, in examining a number of case files that were recovered before they could be sold on eBay, it was apparent that the reverse or back pages of trial transcripts, which would have been stamped with the "M-number," had been removed. Any nineteenth-century court records, particularly transcripts of trial proceedings, should be considered suspect. These may have been a portion Supreme Court Case file or the original of trial proceedings that were maintained by the trial courts.

If you determine you have, or think you may have documents that appear on the missing lists, please contact statearchives@tsl.texas.gov or call 512-463-5455.

Page last modified: November 7, 2022