Resources for African American Genealogy Research at TSLAC

Studio photo of group of three African American individuals. Two women seated and one man standing.
Group portrait of two women seated with hats in lap and a man standing between them, 1905. Tina Q. Odim photograph collection, 2015/109-7. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. (View in TDA)

Genealogy researchers tracing family lines through African American ancestors, especially those who may have resided in Texas, may find the collections and reference resources at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) helpful. TSLAC’s Genealogy Collection is part of the expansive library of publications and resources that includes family and county histories, city directories, birth and death indexes, cemetery records, newspapers, and other information essential to genealogists. Online services like Ancestry.com Texas offer digital versions of some State Archives collections. The State Archives houses the official record of the government of Texas throughout the history of the state, along with papers from organizations, families, businesses, and related Texas groups. If individuals interacted with the government on official business, it is possible that their names are on file.

Washington Edwards, 103 years old, 1889. According to the writing on the back of this photo, Edwards was brought to the United States from Africa, leaving behind a wife and family. He came to Texas shortly before the Mexican War. He never forgot his native African language. Prints and Photographs Collection, 1905/11-1. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The history of the lives of African Americans in the United States is intertwined with the long legacy of chattel slavery. The majority of Black Americans living in the South during the 19th century before the Civil War were owned as property. Tracing family lineage is difficult, as individuals were often only referred to by gender, a general age range, and perhaps a first name. In another blog post [https://www.tsl.texas.gov/outofthestacks/a-girl-named-loise-19th-century-documents-record-hidden-lives/], Reference Archivist Richard Gilreath described how he uncovered the history of an enslaved girl named Loise through historical records. He wrote that, “Deeds, wills, court cases and tax records are some of the evidentiary documents establishing intermittent timelines of those whose lives intersected with legal transactions, including those considered, under the law, as property.” In this case, Harris County tax documents and records from court cases illuminated the course of this young person’s life.

Image: 13th Legislature, 1873, Liberators of Texas, [included African American representation]. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Find out more about representation in the online exhibit Forever Free.

After the Civil War, Black Texans began participating in communities in new ways that offer opportunities for genealogists. For example, ancestors may have entered public office, owned property, and registered to vote. Researchers should investigate federal census records, voter registration lists and other files available through the State Archives. The Texas Genealogy Trails site lists African Americans in government office during the Reconstruction Era here: http://genealogytrails.com/tex/state/aapolitics.html.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was a federal agency that provided various means of support for former enslaved people and opened field offices in southern states, including Texas. Digital collections of these records are available online through genealogy services like FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1989155) and particularly useful for African American heritage searches.

TSLAC Reference staff maintain a page on the Archives and Reference website with a list of popular resources used for Genealogy research. Many of these are searchable online. Much of the list is reproduced below. These entries cover only a portion of the hundreds of collections and publications that may contain references to ancestors. Patrons may also search the library catalog for more titles and search finding aids for more archival material.

                                Access the library catalog.

                                Access archival finding aids.

Texas State Archives Collections

The Index to Confederate Pension Applications provides the name, county of residence, and pension number for some 54,634 approved, rejected, and home pensions issued by the Texas government between 1899 and 1975.

Texas Adjutant General Service Records, 1836-1935. The Service Records Series combines both official service record files from the Adjutant General’s Office and alphabetical files created by other agencies which contain records related to an individual’s service in a military unit. The database provides the name, the military organization, and the call number. Please note that the listing does not include the names of ALL persons who served in Texas military organizations. It indexes only the names of persons who have files in this record series.

Republic Claims. This series is now available in digital form as well as microfilm. It includes claims for payment, reimbursement, or restitution submitted by citizens to the Republic of Texas government from 1835 through 1846. It also includes records relating to Republic pensions and claims against the Republic submitted as public debt claims after 1846.

Confederate Indigent Families Lists. View the names of families that received aid through the 1863 “Act to Support the Families and Dependents of Texas Soldiers.”

1867 Voters’ Registration. On March 23, 1867, Congress passed legislation that called for a registration of qualified voters in each military district. The text of this legislation can be found in the Statutes at Large in volume 15, page 2 (15 Stat 2). The commanding officer in each district was required to have, before September 1, a list of these voters from each county. These lists would be used to determine all who would be eligible to vote for any proposed constitutional convention in the state.

Texas Convict Record Ledgers and Indexes. The record ledgers are excellent sources of individual convict descriptions and information regarding their incarceration. Although the original records are too fragile to be used, they have been microfilmed and may be viewed on-site or borrowed through the interlibrary loan program.

Republic of Texas Passports. The collection of 55 documents has been digitized and a complete listing of names is available.

Library Reference Resources

Vital statistics indexes are an important part of the genealogical resources available at the library. While we do not have access to the certificates themselves, the library does own selected indexes to Texas births, deaths, marriages and divorces. The indexes are available for on-site use.

Texas County Tax Rolls on Microfilm are available for on-site use from the early years of each county through the late 1970s.

Index of County Records on Microfilm is available online, along with instructions for borrowing rolls through interlibrary loan. Although the microfilm is housed in depository libraries throughout Texas, the Genealogy Collection houses the film for the following counties: Atascosa, Bandera, Bastrop, Bexar, Blanco, Caldwell, Comal, Frio, Galveston, Gillespie, Grayson, Guadalupe, Harris, Hays, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Kinney, Llano, McMullen, Medina, Uvalde, and Wilson.

City Directory Research at the Texas State Library and Archives. Our city directories include print and microfilm city directories.

Newspaper Research at the Texas State Library and Archives. Our newspaper collections include newspapers on microfilm, original print newspapers, and online newspaper subscriptions.

Ancestry.com Texas

The following data collections are included free to Texans via Ancestry.com. Find out how to access these digital collections here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/ancestry.

  • Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958
  • Texas, Prison Employee Ledgers, 1861-1938
  • Texas, Muster Roll Index Cards, 1838-1900
  • Texas, Wills and Probate Records, 1833-1974
  • Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945
  • Texas, Court of Criminal Appeal Indexes, 1892-1947
  • Texas, Capitol Building Payroll, 1882-1888
  • Texas, Memorials and Petitions, 1834-1929
  • Texas, Bonds and Oaths of Office, 1846–1920
  • Texas, Index Card Collections, 1800-1900
  • Texas, Voter Registration Lists, 1867-1869
  • Nacogdoches, Texas, Spanish and Mexican Government Records, 1729-1836
  • Texas, Land Title Abstracts,1700-2008 (original records held by the Texas General Land Office)

For more information on the collections and services available at TSLAC, check the website here or contact Reference Staff at ref@tsl.texas.gov or 512-463-5455.

Artifacts Collection Highlights: Treaty Between Great Britain and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade

By Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist

Front cover of the Treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade, November 16, 1840. ATF0419, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

A few of the items in the Texas State Archives’ Artifacts collection are both artifact and document—a combination of physical object, often with aesthetic or artistic value, and informational record—that sheds light on a facet of our historical past. Among these are treaties between the Republic of Texas and other sovereign nations, created between 1839 and 1844 as formal and official documents of international diplomacy. These treaties are also described in our holdings as Texas Department of State treaties between the Republic of Texas and other nations.

The treaty pictured above, with its bright red velvet cover and decorative cord, is one of three treaties by which Great Britain recognized the Republic of Texas as an independent nation and was signed in November 1840. This particular treaty established an agreement between the two nations to suppress the African slave trade by declaring such trade as piracy. British or Texian merchant vessels discovered by either nations’ war ships to be carrying Africans for the purposes of enslavement were to be subject to capture and adjudication of their masters, crew, and accomplices. African men, women, and children found on board who were destined for slavery were to be immediately given their freedom and delivered to the nearest Texian or British territory. “Texian” was the adjective used during the Republic era where we would instead use “Texan” today.

First page of the Treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade, November 16, 1840. ATF0419, Artifacts collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The treaty was signed in London, England, on November 16, 1840, by Lord Palmerston as Great Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and by James Hamilton, financial agent for the Republic of Texas. Hamilton had taken over the task of negotiation from James Pinckney Henderson, Texas minister to England at that time and the future first governor of the state of Texas.

Hamilton’s efforts resulted in three signed treaties between the nations, including this one to suppress the African slave trade, one of several such treaties Great Britain negotiated with other nations during this time. Great Britain had abolished slavery within its empire in 1807 and was working toward universal emancipation. The treaty was not approved by the Congress of the Republic of Texas until January 1842 due to politically motivated delay in sending the document to Texas. It became effective on June 28, 1842.

Though slavery existed and was lawful in Texas while it was a republic, and later as a state after annexation, prohibition of the African slave trade was part of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, as it had also been prohibited by the United States Constitution since 1808. Even so, a small percentage of slaves in the republic arrived there due to illegal African trade.

Permanent residence of free blacks in the republic required the approval of Congress in each case. Before the Texas Revolution, the Mexican government had given free blacks full citizenship rights, but afterward, the Constitution of the Republic of Texas took away citizenship from those with one-eighth African blood and restricted their property rights. The “freedom” granted to those Africans who were found on vessels smuggling them into Texas was by no means full freedom as the white population enjoyed.

“All persons, Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians excepted, who were residing in Texas on the day of the declaration of Independence shall be considered citizens of the republic and entitled to all the privileges of such.” Detail from INV 6512, General Provisions, Section 10, Texas Constitution of 1836, Texas (Republic) Department of State records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Click here for an image of the entire page from Section 10.

The treaty was nullified by the subsequent annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845. A similar treaty between Great Britain and the United States was finally concluded in 1862, though negotiations had gone on between the two countries since 1814 (with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent) and had primarily been hindered by disagreement over conditions for search and visitation of vessels. Slavery in Texas officially ended after June 19, 1865, when federal forces occupied Galveston two months after the end of the American Civil War and emancipation was announced by the Union commander of the Department of Texas, General Gordon Granger. Still, the devastating effects of slavery persisted and continue to echo in our society’s struggles to ensure social justice and the protection of civil rights for African Americans.

A Girl Named Loise: 19th Century Documents Record Hidden Lives

By Richard Gilreath, Reference Archivist

Historical records at the State Archives provide insight into the lives of enslaved African Americans residing in Texas in the 19th century. Various government documents available through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) provide dates, names, and geographic locations important to family historians and other researchers hoping to identify individuals who may have lived in bondage. Deeds, wills, court cases and tax records are some of the evidentiary documents establishing intermittent timelines of those whose lives intersected with legal transactions, including those considered, under the law, as property. One such individual was a young African-American girl known as Loise. Loise makes several appearances in records dating from 1848 -1851. By using the names and locations mentioned in a single document as leads, we may follow Loise’s path for several years through the historical record.

We locate Loise on an 1849 Harris County tax-assessor’s deed which states that her owner, C. W. Bassett, owed the state back taxes. Loise was put up for auction. With no bidders, the State of Texas purchased her for $5.90.

This Harris County document reveals that C. W. Bassett owed back taxes for the year 1848. Tax Assessor and Collector, John N. Reed therefore levied “upon the following property of said C.W. Bassett to wit: One negro girl named Loise about ten years old slave for life.”
John N. Reed Deed, July 25, 1849, Miscellaneous File, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

In our Texas Treasures online exhibit, we noted that Loise’s fate is unknown. However, by using other resources available at TSLAC, we can develop a better understanding of the life of Loise after this point. Loise’s own voice and words are not reflected in the records, but we are able to reconstruct an incomplete timeline of her life through the probate records of Harris County. These records, which have been microfilmed, are part of our county records on microfilm.

The probate record refers to Loise as “Louisa.” These similar but slightly different names add an additional layer of uncertainty. However, we believe – based on the locations and times in which these individuals lived – that Loise and Louisa are the same individual.

Loise is first referred to in the Harris County probate record on August 28, 1848 with the assigned value of $100.00 and as the legal property of Adam Erastus Cloud. Cloud, a minor, was represented by his guardian, James Walker. However, the probate record shows Loise under the possession of Harris County Sheriff, D. Russell, not Cloud. Walker sought to acquire physical possession of slaves that Cloud claimed.

On July 25, 1849, records reveal that the tax assessor and collector for Harris County, John N. Reed, put up for public auction in Harris County the young girl named Loise. She was described as “about ten years old” and “a slave for life.” As no one bid on her, the state purchased Loise for $5.90. Her purchase by the state is listed in a Comptroller’s Office register of tax sales. The finding aid for these records is available online. Although the finding aid references the sales of land, sales of slaves are also included in the volumes.

In an entry in the probate record dated June 27, 1850 – nearly a year after the auction – James Walker and Adam Cloud continued to claim Loise as Cloud’s property. The record noted that she was gifted to Cloud by his grandfather’s will. Several other slaves claimed by Cloud were found in Brazoria County, on property owned by F.J. Calvit. James Walker filed a lawsuit against Calvit to claim the slaves on Cloud’s behalf.

Texas Supreme Court document M-2980 – part one. James Walker filed a lawsuit against F.J. Calvit to claim slaves on behalf of Adam Cloud.
Texas Supreme Court document M-2980 – part two.

This court case ultimately went to the Texas Supreme Court. The case file went missing, but TSLAC recovered a portion of the file in 2008. The portion of the case file recovered does not mention Loise. (You can read more about TSLAC’s replevin efforts here.)

The probate record also reveals some of the circumstances of the death of Clement N. Bassett. A petition by August C. Daws, dated November 11, 1850, averred that Bassett died in 1848 (though it did not provide the exact date). This petition noted that litigation was ongoing between Adam Erastus Cloud and Bassett regarding the ownership of Loise. Daws applied to be the administrator of Bassett’s estate and swore that Bassett died without writing a will.

Bassett’s widow, Julia, protested Daws’s application on November 16, 1850. In response to her protest, Loise was mentioned by name, and appraised at $375.00 by the court. She was noted to be “about thirteen years of age.” On January 28, 1851, Daws submitted a motion to withdraw his application for administration of the Bassett estate. He cited a decision against him in a lawsuit, which also referenced Loise, as his reason for withdrawing the application. The other party in this lawsuit is not mentioned, but may have been Julia Bassett.

On July 31, 1851, Adam Erastus Cloud appears again in the probate record. He reached 21 years of age and asked to receive property held by James Walker as his guardian. In this entry in the record, Loise is assigned a value of $400.00. An entry in the probate record on October 2 of that year reveals that legal difficulties still surrounded Loise. She was excepted from the property returned to Cloud by Walker, due to “the prosecution of the suit in the District Court … in favor of said Cloud against Clement N. Bassett for a negro girl Louisa, commenced by said defendant as Guardian of said Cloud.” It appears, at this time, that Loise worked for a man named James W. Henderson, also in Harris County.

The probate court ordered Loise be returned to Cloud, but that she would remain in Henderson’s possession until the conclusion of the suit in District Court. The probate record noted that Loise was hired by Henderson, rather than owned by him.

After October 1851, we did not find further reference to Loise in the probate record. Her exact fate remains unknown, but the probate record allows us to reconstruct claims over her ownership and have a sense of what may have happened to her. After Bassett died, she was moved to the property of Henderson. It appears that several of Cloud’s slaves were sent to work on others’ property during this time period, and that Cloud took legal action to attempt to recover them.

Loise and the other slaves owned by Cloud were discussed as property, and the impact these decisions would have on their lives was never considered in the record. We do not have documentation of the hardships Loise experienced and survived during this time. However, these records provide us with the opportunity to understand a little more about the lives of slaves like Loise, who, to the best of our knowledge, left no written record of her own experiences.

Additional records at TSLAC and other institutions may provide more of the story. Harris County District Court records might provide the court case records of Adam Cloud’s and James Walker’s efforts to claim ownership of Loise. Her descendants may know the rest of the story. If you have additional information regarding Loise, please contact us at: ref@tsl.texas.gov.