Historical Texas Newspapers Now Available Online

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) is pleased to announce a new partnership with the University of North Texas (UNT) Libraries. The TSLAC Newspaper Collection is now live and available for free online.

More than 4,500 issues of historical Texas newspapers from TSLAC’s collection, published from 1855 to 1930, are available online through UNT’s Portal to Texas History. The Portal provides free and open access to hundreds public domain newspapers held by repositories statewide.

“This partnership represents an exciting endeavor in both preservation and collaboration,” said Dr. Ana Krahmer, Director of UNT Libraries’ Digital Newspaper Program. “We look forward both to adding further newspaper titles to the TSLAC collection, as well as to building relationships with more Texas cities whose public domain newspapers will be newly available because of this partnership.”

Newspapers with issues currently available in the TSLAC Newspaper Collection include the Dallas HeraldThe Terry County HeraldThe Beeville BeeWichita Daily TimesAmarillo Daily NewsThe Hamilton Record and RustlerThe Goliad GuardThe Hamilton RustlerWichita Weekly TimesAlpine AvalancheDallas Weekly HeraldTerry County Voice, and The Home and State (a Prohibition era labor newspaper).

State Archivist Jelain Chubb noted, “TSLAC staff are evaluating the collection and will base digitization priorities on both the physical condition of the newspapers and requests for use.”

Approaching 10 million newspaper pages, the Texas Digital Newspaper Program, hosted on The Portal to Texas History, is the largest single-state, open-access interface to digital newspapers in the U.S.

The Portal to Texas History is a gateway to rare, historical, and primary source materials from or about Texas. Created and maintained by UNT Libraries, the Portal leverages the power of hundreds of content partners across the state to provide a vibrant, growing collection of resources.

Visit the TSLAC Newspaper Collection in The Portal to Texas History at https://texashistory.unt.edu/explore/collections/TSLNC/.

Texas Historical Foundation Funds Court Records Database Project

The Texas Historical Foundation (THF) has awarded the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) $5000 to create an online reference tool for searching a set of court records held by the State Archives.

At the June 4 meeting of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, State Archivist Jelain Chubb joined with commissioners to accept a $5,000 grant from the Texas Historical Foundation.

THF’s Marshall J. Doke Texas Legal History Preservation Trust grant will support TSLAC’s efforts to transcribe and make available key information from Texas 3rd Court of Appeals case files. Through previous grants from the THF, the Archives and Information Services Division has already converted 2500 Texas Supreme Court case files into digital records that may be searched online.

That ongoing project has involved much more than scanning documents, as many of the original papers need time and labor-intensive preservation treatments before imaging may begin. In addition, the historical records require handwriting and other analyses in order to add information to a searchable database.

Archives staff take preservation measures to prepare these legal documents for digitization. These court records have been humidified and flattened and the adhesive is being dissolved.

The new project focuses on Texas Court of Appeals (3rd) 1891-1923 case file indexes and also entails more than converting paper documents into electronic records. The grant makes possible the development and implementation of a transcription process to improve access. TSLAC will hire transcribers to analyze cursive handwriting from the original records and input the information into data fields, such as appellant and appellee, with the end result a searchable index available online. The transcription component will serve as a pilot project to enhance online access to the State Archives’ extensive collection of handwritten historical documents.

Transcribers will type the names and other information from court record indexes like this one into a searchable database.

Recently, State Archivist Jelain Chubb coordinated and hosted a virtual presentation to the THF with an overview of the important work the Foundation has made possible thus far and plans for the current grant. Presenters included Senior Reference Archivist, Tonia Wood; Reference Archivist, Richard Gilreath; and Archivist, Tiffany Criswell. Those interested in more details about the current and past projects funded by the THF may view a recorded version of the presentation below.

New Online: Recent Updates to Finding Aids and Digital Images Available Online

As our archives staff work on an ongoing basis to arrange, preserve, describe, and make available to the public the materials under our care, we spotlight new additions to the website in a regular feature from Out of the Stacks. The column lists new and revised finding aids recently made available online. We close out the piece highlighting fresh uploads to the Texas Digital Archive, our repository of electronic items.

Archivists create finding aids for collections once they are processed and add these descriptive guides to Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO). TARO hosts finding aids from institutions around the state and researchers may determine whether or not to limit searches to the State Archives. Not all collections have been processed and therefore the list of finding aids does not represent the entirety of our holdings. The Archives & Manuscripts page of the TSLAC website provides more information and guidance on how to access archival collections.

Contact ref@tsl.texas.gov or 512-463-5455 with questions about using TSLAC’s archival resources. For a comprehensive list of all recently added and updated finding aids visit Archives: Finding Aids (New & Revised).

New Finding Aids

State Records

Texas Health and Human Services Commission advisory committee meeting files – OAH V.132

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is the oversight agency for certain state agencies with health or human services functions. Records are the meeting files of many of the commission’s advisory committees, dating 1996-2019. Records are electronic as well as paper.

Texas Prescribed Burning Board meeting minutes and agenda and other records – AGR I.06

The Texas Prescribed Burning Board (PBB) was created within the Department of Agriculture in 1999, for the purpose of establishing minimum standards for prescribed burning in Texas. The PBB certifies commercial, private, and not-for-profit prescribed burn managers to ensure they have the proper training to execute prescribed burns designed to confine fire to a predetermined area and to accomplish planned land management objectives. Records include board meeting minutes and agenda, research and publication development files, Prescribed Fire School documents and curriculum, planning records, personnel documents, and audiocassettes, dated 1995-2018 and undated, bulk 1998-2010. The audiocassettes have been digitized and are part of the Texas Digital Archive.

Texas Senate recordings – LEG I.04

The Texas Senate is one arm of the Legislature of the State of Texas (the other being the Texas House of Representatives), which the Texas Constitution (Article III, Section 1) vests with all legislative power of the state. Senate recordings contain floor debate, press conferences, speeches, interviews, hearings, ceremonies, and joint meetings with House committees. They span the 62nd Legislature, 4th Called Session, through the 79th Legislature, Interim Term. These digital copies of the original audiotape recordings, created by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission with grant funding provided by the Library Services and Technology Act, Institute of Museum and Library Services, are part of the Texas Digital Archive. The Texas Senate Recordings search page allows searching of these recordings by legislative session, date, committee name, recording number, and keyword.

Revised Finding Aids

State Records

Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials – OAH VIII.213

Texas Tourist Development Agency photographs and audiovisual materials document the activities of the Texas Tourist Development Agency (TTDA) and its work to increase the state’s share of the national tourist market using a variety of mass media. The materials include photographic color slides, transparencies, negatives, photographic prints, videotapes, motion picture films, and audio tapes and date from 1964 to 1997 and undated. Portions of the slides and negatives have been digitized and are part of the Texas Digital Archive. In addition, a portion of digitized slides is available through the Texas State Archives Flickr page.

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How to Convert Your Home Movie Tapes to Digital

By Steven Kantner, Digital Asset Coordinator

Videotapes and blank DVD-RV

Too much time on your hands during the pandemic? Digitize your old home videos before it’s too late!

Staying at home during this period of COVID-19 has allowed many of us to appreciate movie watching at home. Now may be a great time to consider digitizing your old home video movies that have been collecting dust in the closet. Unfortunately, we are facing the obsolescence of videotape and VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders). Those of you who may have bought Betamax in the 1980s are already familiar with the difficulties of an out-of-date format. But the more common VHS format, and the dozen or so camcorder formats that came and went since the 1990s are to the point where they will become unplayable due to either the tape degradation or the loss of working playback equipment and parts to repair them.

There are several approaches to digitizing your videos. One is to send them out to a service and let the professionals do all the work. This service is provided by companies ranging from small internet startups to well-known large corporations. If you are among the many who could never program the VCR’s clock, then this might be your best option. But, if you like to tinker and happen to have an old VCR to dust off, or know family or friends who do, you might be able to do this yourself. Here are three different options to try depending on what type of media and equipment you have available.

TIP: Different video formats have different ways to protect the tape from being recorded over. Research your videotape formats and do whatever you need to your tapes to protect your video. VHS tapes have a tab on the back, just like audiocassettes do on the top edge. Simply break that tab to prevent an “oops” moment! Do this regardless if you are digitizing the tapes yourself or sending them out to a service! You can see the wide variety of formats here in the Texas Commission on the Arts Videotape Identification and Assessment Guide:  https://www.arts.texas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/video.pdf


OPTION I:  VHS-DVD combination player transfer

VHS-DVD combination player and recorder

If you already have one of these combo units around, you are in luck. These VHS players were popular in the 2000s and may be hiding in your closet, under the bed, or buried in boxes in your garage. If you don’t have one, you might look around at thrift stores, yard sales, and other outlets that may have old electronics. These units were already designed to convert your home video to digital video for DVD. DVDs were considered long-lived at the time they came out, but the writable and rewritable disks are not permanent and are prone to lose data over time – in as little as 10 years! They are not good preservation media and professional archivists don’t rely on DVD or CD media for sole copies of data in long-term archival digital storage environment. However, DVDs will work as a bridge to get your video into a computer.

What you need:

  1. A VHS-DVD combination player
  2. Blank DVD-R or DVD-RW disk media
  3. Computer with a DVD drive (internal or external)
  4. Free DVD video extraction software (such as Handbrake or VLC Media Player)

With the VHS-DVD combo unit, you can record your video onto the DVD, sometimes referred to as “dubbing” in device manuals. This DVD will be formatted to be played on a standard DVD video player. Follow the instruction manual for the unit to properly create and finalize the disk. Once complete, you will need a computer with a DVD drive attached or built-in (please note many computers today don’t include these drives, so you may need to use an older computer or borrow a USB DVD drive from someone). You can’t just drag and drop video from a DVD video disk – you will need to have software like the two in the list above that can read the disk’s data structure and repackage the video as a stand-alone file. Once you have extraction software installed (a.k.a., ripping software), you can copy the video (a.k.a., ripping) from the DVD and store it on your hard drive. A simple search online should uncover plenty of tutorials about the process for the software you choose to install. Remember, there is free open-source software that can do this, so you shouldn’t need to pay for any software to extract from the DVD.

In the professional archives field, best practice is to capture old analog video at its original resolution and uncompressed, which results in very large files not practical for most. For preserving your home movies, save it at the original resolution – here in the US that is NTSC at 720×480 pixels. DVD video already uses video compression to reduce its data footprint. Your best bet for video compression during extraction is to choose H.264 for the video and MP3 for the audio. This should provide you with the best balance between image quality and a file size. The final video file will likely have an extension of .mp4, although .mov or .avi may be found as well depending on your operating system and software.

TIP: Always inspect your media. If there is mold on it, you probably need to find someone to send it to for cleaning and digitization. Mold exposure can cause medical issues so don’t risk it at home. Look not only at the outside of the cassette but look at the tape pack through the window of the cassette. Any white or gray fuzz growing on the tape pack is a bad sign – it may also be yellow, green, black, or even dark purple in color. You do not want to contaminate all your other tapes by playing a moldy one in your VCR!

image: mold growing on tape

OPTION II:  MiniDV camcorder transfer

MiniDV camcorder

If you have a VCR and are fortunate to still have a MiniDV camcorder, you can use the camcorder to pass the VCR video to your computer. Keep in mind, MiniDV camcorders typically use Firewire cables (a.k.a., DV) to connect to your computer.

For those with newer Apple computers, adaptors can be found for Firewire to Thunderbolt. For those with Windows computers, you may be able to find Firewire expansion cards or other video capture interfaces that allow for Firewire (or DV as they may be labeled) connections for your PC. Some interfaces have additional inputs making this MiniDV camera method unnecessary, so keep that in mind if you decide to purchase a video capture interface.
Image: firewire cable

What you need:

  1. A VHS player, or player for whatever format you have
  2. Apple computer with Thunderbolt and Firewire adapters, or Windows computer with Firewire add-on card or USB video interface with DV connection
  3. Movie software (Apple’s iMovie or Windows Movie Maker)
MiniDV camcorder AV input jack

Once you have the MiniDV camcorder’s DV/Firewire cable plugged in, you should be able to find an AV input on the camcorder. Often camcorders have a miniature 1/8” jack for the AV input, similar to the small headphone jacks you are likely familiar with. The cable likely came with the camera, and it breaks out into three RCA connectors (sometimes referred to as “phono plugs” in consumer manuals) – one for video, one for audio left, and one for audio right. These RCA connectors are the common connections you find on VCRs and DVD players.

RCA connections and S-video

You can connect your VCR output to the RCA connections and plug the minijack into the camcorder. The camcorder should have a function selection on it that allows you to operate it in an “AV” mode instead of camera mode. This allows it to see the video from the VCR, convert them to a digital signal, and output them to the computer. If you have the camcorder in the correct setting, you usually should be able to see the video from the videotape playing on the LCD screen built into the camcorder. iMovie software on an Apple, or Windows Movie Maker software on a Windows PC, should be able to see the camera device and capture the digital video stream to your local computer. Review the section above for best settings for saving your files.

OPTION III: Video capture

Alternatively, if you don’t have a MiniDV player or the VHS-DVD combo deck, big box stores and online retailers carry USB based video interfaces that provide RCA connections for audio and video, S-video (an improved connection for video you might choose to use if you have it on your old playback equipment). These vary in quality and cost. Typically, the adage “you get what you pay for” is often true, but one of these should not set you back too much for capturing basic VHS quality video.  If you have a lot of home video you would like to digitize yourself, this small investment may be worthwhile.

TIP: It’s best to keep your original tapes safe after digitization just in case you need to access them again in the near future. Always store your tapes in an air-conditioned environment if possible. The best place is a closet, and of course avoid any “wet” areas such as a bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, etc. Keep the tapes off the floor at least several inches. A water leak will easily ruin your tapes.

Trouble with Tapes

You might have your old VCR all set up, along with your box of home videos you pulled from the garage. Excitedly, you put the first tape in, and after a short while the image starts looking terribly crooked and distorted and the audio might have a distinct odd distortion to it – or the tape just grinds the player to a halt and stops playing. Hit stop immediately! Your tape may be suffering from binder degradation. Forcing your VCR to play a degraded tape can damage both the tape and the VCR. Tape is a plastic base film with a coating to store the magnetic recordings. These coatings absorb moisture and begin to breakdown over time. Maybe your decision to store the tapes in your hot garage or attic was not such a “hot” idea after all! Tapes need dry and cool conditions to survive a long time – and ideally should be stored in a rewound state and vertically on their side.

Certain brands commonly have binder degradation. Sometimes you can identify a tape with degradation by smell, but it is not 100% foolproof. A very crayon-like waxy odor may indicate that it is suffering from problems. However, some tapes may smell slightly when first removed from their sleeve, yet playback fine. Some may not playback fine but do not smell.

There is a way to remediate the binder degradation, but only temporarily. In the professional digitization world, we do what we call “baking” – heating a tape over low temperatures for a long time. This temporarily cures the “stickiness” of the tape and allows it to perform better on playback – typically for a few weeks only. After a few weeks it will likely revert to an unplayable state and would need to be baked once more to be played again.

IMPORTANT: This “baking” is NOT something you can do with your home oven –do NOT put audiotapes, videotapes, OR motion picture film in your home oven! You can damage or destroy the media, or worse you may start a fire!

The idea of tape “baking” is to dehydrate – not to cook. Sometimes just adding the tape to a sealed airtight plastic bag with desiccant (that stuff you find in boxed products that states “Do not eat”) to absorb the moisture can work. But often tapes are too far gone and need more extreme measures. Professional archives like ours often have laboratory ovens that can accurately maintain temperature and perform this treatment.
Image: laboratory oven

There are some devices that allow you to perform this at home. Less expensive food dehydrators such as NESCO and Excalibur brands have been used to dehydrate tape. Some internet searches will turn up discussion forums on the use of these for tapes. It is NOT recommended to use a dehydrator for both food and tapes, and certainly not at the same time! The chemicals that leach out of plastics and tape coatings may not be something you want to eat! And you do not want to contaminate your tapes with byproducts of food either. A dehydrator for this purpose should have an internal fan to move air and should have a temperature control. I have used an Excalibur dehydrator at home to bake my own tapes at times when needed and successfully digitized them afterward.

Using a dehydrator to treat a tape at home

Baking tapes is a lot like Texas BBQ, low and slow. If you find you need to do this for a videotape, keep the temperature no more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit – and bake for 12-24 hours. If the tape has been stored in humid conditions for a long time, it may take even longer. Before placing tapes in a dehydrator, test it over time with a quality oven thermometer to see how accurate the device’s thermostat is.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT heat these tapes at higher temperatures or you risk melting the tape and/or plastic components! And again, NEVER put motion picture film in a dehydrator. This suggestion only pertains to videotapes!

Your video is digitized. Now what?

Having your video digitized is great – unless your hard drive fails, and you lose your data. Then you are back to square one. It’s best to follow the LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) concept – keeping a digital copy on your hard drive, a backup drive, and on the cloud provides you some extra security in case of a drive failure or other catastrophic loss of the physical storage device. You should have at least three copies of your digital files, and one copy should not be physically stored near the others.

Now all that is left to do is watch and enjoy!

New Online: Recent Update to Finding Aids and Digital Images Available Online

As our archives staff work on an ongoing basis to arrange, preserve, describe and make available to the public the materials under our care, we spotlight new additions to the website in a regular feature from Out of the Stacks. The column lists new and revised finding aids recently made available online. We close out the piece highlighting fresh uploads to the Texas Digital Archive, our repository of electronic items.

Archivists create finding aids for collections once they are processed and add these descriptive guides to Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO). TARO hosts finding aids from institutions around the state and researchers may determine whether or not to limit searches to the State Archives. Not all collections have been processed and therefore the list of finding aids does not represent the entirety of our holdings. The Archives & Manuscripts page of the TSLAC website provides more information and guidance on how to access archival collections.

Contact ref@tsl.texas.gov or 512-463-5455 with questions about using TSLAC’s archival resources. For a comprehensive list of all recently added and updated finding aids visit Archives: Finding Aids (New & Revised).

New Finding Aids

State Records

Texas General Land Office Special Board of Review agenda, minutes, and exhibits – GLO I.11

Administratively attached to the Texas General Land Office, the Special Board of Review considers various aspects related to the development of real property belonging to Texas, the Permanent School Fund, or any other dedicated state fund. Records consists of agenda, minutes, and exhibits, dating 1995-1998.

Texas Governor Allan Shivers press files – GOV IV.08

Press staff of the Texas Governor’s Office were responsible for issuing press releases and media advisories on the activities and actions of the governor, writing speeches for the governor and collecting, copying, and distributing information about the governor and first lady. Records are the press files for Governor Allan Shivers and consist of clippings, press releases, speeches, notes, publications, proclamations, correspondence, and related records, dated 1937, 1941-1943, 1946-1957, bulk 1946-1957.

A portrait of Governor Allan Shivers,January, 1953. 1983/112 M-351-1, Texas Department of Public Safety photographs.Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Texas Governor Allan Shivers scheduling files – GOV IV.09

As the chief executive of the State of Texas, the governor has many responsibilities and duties that require a full schedule to fulfill. The governor’s scheduling files document Governor’s Office responses to requests for the governor’s time as well as logistical organization of the governor’s attendance at local, state, national, and international events. Records are the scheduling files of Governor Allan Shivers and consist of correspondence, invitations, schedules, and related records, dated 1949-1964 and undated, bulk 1951-1957.

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New Online: Recent Updates to Finding Aids and Digital Images Available Online

As our archives staff work on an ongoing basis to arrange, preserve, describe and make available to the public the materials under our care, we spotlight new additions to the website in a regular feature from Out of the Stacks. The column lists new and revised finding aids recently made available online. We close out the piece highlighting fresh uploads to the Texas Digital Archive, our repository of electronic items.

Front elevation, February 13, 1883,1994/083-8a, Architectural drawings and derivatives. Texas Capitol Building Commission administrative records and architectural drawings. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Archivists create finding aids for collections once they are processed and add these descriptive guides to Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO). TARO hosts finding aids from institutions around the state and researchers may determine whether or not to limit searches to the State Archives. Not all collections have been processed and therefore the list of finding aids does not represent the entirety of our holdings. The Archives & Manuscripts page of the TSLAC website provides more information and guidance on how to access archival collections.

Contact ref@tsl.texas.gov or 512-463-5455 with questions about using TSLAC’s archival resources. For a comprehensive list of all recently added and updated finding aids visit Archives: Finding Aids (New & Revised).

New Finding Aids

State Records

Texas Department of Transportation Right of Way Division records – HWY II.15 (these electronic records are available on the Texas Digital Archive)

These records include conveyances, maps, and titles for property owned by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Right of Way Division. The Right of Way Division coordinates the acquisition of land to build, widen, or enhance highways and provides relocation assistance when needed. The division also coordinates utility adjustments, and the disposition and leasing of surplus real property owned by TxDOT. The records document these land transfers and date from 1924 to 2017, and undated. The records are part of an ongoing digitization project by TxDOT that has begun with the Austin District; the project will continue with other major-municipality districts and finish with the less populous ones.

Right-of-way easement, 000006032, Texas Department of Transportation Right of Way Division records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Texas Board of Commissioners of Public Grounds and Buildings records – OAH II.022b

The 8th Texas Legislature (Chapter 40, Regular Session) created the Board of Commissioners of Public Grounds and Buildings in February 1860 to supervise the care, maintenance, and improvements of buildings and grounds upon the capitol square, including the Capitol, the Treasury Building, the Supreme Court Building, the General Land Office, and the Governor’s Mansion. The board was also tasked with directing and controlling the investment of all appropriations made by the legislature for the purchase of books for the State Library and establishing rules for the management of the library. Records date 1860-1876, undated, and include minutes, financial records, correspondence, reports to the governor, various inventories, and payroll records.

Texas Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds records – OAH II.022b (all of the records have been digitized and are available on the Texas Digital Archive)

The 14th Texas Legislature (Senate Bill 335, Regular Session) created the Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds in 1874 to take charge of the public halls of the Capitol and State Library as well as the safekeeping and preservation of the Capitol grounds and State Cemetery. This office also briefly worked with the Governor’s Mansion, Treasury Building, and Comptroller Building. In 1879, the office came under the supervision of the Commissioner of Insurance, Statistics, and History (Revised Civil Statutes, Chapter 2, Title 76). The office was abolished in 1919 and its duties absorbed by the Texas State Board of Control (Senate Bill 147, 36th Legislature, Regular Session). Records date 1877-1916, undated, and include financial records, reports, various inventories, payroll records, bids, specifications, blueprints, drawings, and prints. These records have been digitized and are part of the Texas Digital Archive.

 Wire glass enclosure no. 118, 2019/118-8-14, Texas Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
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Striking a Balance: Preserving Delicate Documents while Providing Access

by Caroline Jones, Reference Archivist

An essential component of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s (TSLAC) mission of providing Texans access to the information needed to be informed, productive citizens is preserving the archival record of Texas. But what if archival materials are too fragile to be regularly handled? How do we balance preservation with access to the information? Efforts to both preserve records and maintain public access to them has changed over time as technology advances. In celebration of the American Library Association’s Preservation Week (April 26-May 2,2020) we are highlighting one of our collections that exemplifies this balance: Texas Adjutant General’s Department Civil War military rolls.

The Texas Adjutant General’s Department Civil War military rolls include muster rolls, payrolls, rosters, returns, and election returns of Confederate States Army, Texas State Troops, and Army of the United States units that were stationed in Texas during the Civil War. A typical military roll includes the soldiers’ names and ranks, their commanding officer, a description of the organization, enlistment and discharge data, descriptions of individuals, when and where they were stationed, and arms issued. Much of this information can be seen in the muster roll for Company C, 15th Brigade, Cavalry, Texas State Troops included below. Because of the level of individual information contained within the military rolls, researchers and genealogists consider this a highly valuable resource.

Figure 1: #101, Captain John W. Bone, Captain J.J. Harrison, Company C, 15th Brigade, Cavalry, Texas State Troops, July 24-August 6, 1863. Image accessed through the Texas Digital Archive (TDA).

Preserving Original Documents with Conservation Treatments
Many of the military rolls are extremely fragile. The more the paper is handled, the more likely it is to tear or curl. In addition, inks, like iron-gall ink, eat through paper and can make the rolls illegible, while also destroying the stability of the paper. In the early-to-mid 1900s many of these rolls underwent a common conservation treatment of the time called “silking.” Silking was a process of adhering a thin piece of silk to the front and back of the paper to support it. Despite best intentions, archivists and conservators now know that the silks’ acidity causes the paper to become more brittle and discolored over time. Between 2010 and 2019, TSLAC Conservation tackled this collection and addressed these issues in the military rolls. The oversized Confederate military rolls were conserved by removing the silk, deacidifying the paper, stabilizing the iron gall ink, and mending tears. This extensive project has allowed for more access to the physical rolls and prepared them for the digitization process.

Figure 2: A “de-silked” military roll in the conservation lab.

Enhancing Access through Digitization
These Civil War military rolls are currently being digitized to preserve the original records while still making them available to the public. Digitized military rolls are available online through our Texas Digital Archive (TDA) at: https://tsl.access.preservica.com/tda/texas-state-agencies-homepage/tmd/#civilWarRolls Researchers can view and download watermarked versions of these military rolls on the TDA.

Prior to the conservation and digitization of these military rolls, their information was only accessible through transcriptions. In the early 1900s almost all of the Civil War military rolls were transcribed onto three by five inch index cards. These cards provided researchers with a way to find the information included within the military rolls without having to pull the rolls out of archival storage. There are three different sets of index cards: “Abstracts of Muster Rolls,” “Captains,” and “Units.” The largest of these is the “Abstracts of Muster Rolls” which fills 65 drawers of the card catalog in the Archives Reading Room. An example of a typical abstract card is shown below.

Figure 3: Abstract card file for 2nd Sergeant Isaac Stewart, Civil War Index- Abstracts of Muster Rolls, Texas, Muster Roll Index Cards, 1838-1900. Image accessed through Ancestry.com

This abstract card is for 2nd Sergeant Isaac Stewart of Company C, 15th Brigade, Cavalry, Texas State Troops. Below is a closer look at the Texas State Troops muster roll from Figure 1, showing Stewart’s rank, age, and enlistment information.

Figure 4: Portion of roll #101, Captain John W. Bone, Captain J.J. Harrison, Company C, 15th Brigade, Cavalry, Texas State Troops, July 24-August 6, 1863.

Not only do these transcriptions help preserve the original rolls, they allow researchers to search by name without needing to know what unit an individual served in. These cards are regularly consulted instead of pulling the original military rolls. This has helped to preserve these documents for future generations of researchers. For those unable to visit our location in Austin, there has always been an option to contact our Reference team to have up to five names searched in the card index.

The Civil War military rolls index cards became accessible online through Ancestry.com within the database “Texas, Muster Roll Index Cards, 1838-1900.” The digitization of these cards not only preserves these heavily used reference materials for future use but allows for greater access to them. The database gives researchers the opportunity to browse the cards as well as search by name, date, location, or keyword. This database is accessible to all Texas residents through our website at: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/ancestry

TSLAC continues to fulfill its mission to preserve archival records while maintaining public access to them. As shown by the history of our Civil War military rolls, methods of preservation and access evolve as new technologies become widely available.

More information on conservation at TSLAC can be found in our blog “TSLAC Conservation” at: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/conservation.

More information on our Civil War military rolls can be found in the online finding aid at: https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/30073/tsl-30073.html.

Learn more about Preservation Week at www.ala.org/preservationweek.

The State Archives Digitization Team Works from Home

By Angela Swift, Archivist

Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) Archives staff, including the digitization team, are working remotely during the recently enacted Stay Home – Work Safe order put in place to curtail the spread of COVID -19. What can a digitization team do from home? As we covered in last summer’s blog post, Why Isn’t Everything in the Archives Available Online?, digitization involves more than the act of creating digital versions of archival materials. When preparing a collection for the Texas Digital Archive, staff usually spend about 25 percent of their time and labor on the digitization portion of the project. Although the team does not have remote access to physical items or scanning equipment while working from home, there are many other tasks that can be done.

Broadside announcing quarantine of Harrisburg against persons from Galveston and other coast towns on Sept. 29, 1870, br0095, The Broadsides collection. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Archivist Angela Swift has been working to make the Broadsides collection available online. The Broadsides is a collection of over 700 advertising and other printed notices, dating from 1646-1999, such as this Yellow Fever quarantine notice from 1870. Since TSLAC had previously digitized these items, Angela is able to work from the images to create the descriptions and metadata that are essential for access.

Photo archivist Cait Burhans is updating the State Archives photo database, clarifying copyright and permissions information for our patrons and staff, and editing images for an upcoming exhibit.

Archivist Tiffany Criswell has created a home office space to work on our Supreme Court case files, among other projects.

Archivist Tiffany Criswell has been working on the Supreme Court M case files missing list and database.  Due to floods, fires and thefts, thousands of cases are missing from the collection. She uses a combination of a digitized card file index, digitized dockets and Texas Reports (available through the Portal to Texas History) to gather information about the missing cases. Tiffany says there is a much more thorough and detailed missing list coming soon.

Digital Asset Coordinator Steve Kanter has been busy with image processing, file management and consulting on metadata. He’s also researching speech-to-text technologies to improve the captioning of online film and video.

Other archivists at TSLAC are hard at work as well. Their hasty notetaking, imaging and copying of collections before the Stay-at-Home order was issued allows them to continue their work on processing and appraisal projects.

Archivist Anna Reznik’s home work space and cat. On view is the ArchivesSpace interface.

Archivists Anna Reznik and Rebecca Romanchuk are working on developing ArchivesSpace, our collections management system.

Trading cubicles and coworkers for home and furry office assistants has been a bit challenging for an archive, but we’re learning new technologies and ways of working so we may continue to increase the number of digitized archival materials available for the public.

Note: Reproductions of archival materials for patrons, including all photocopy, digitization, and microfilm requests will be greatly delayed. You are welcome to submit payment, but please be aware that requests may take several weeks to be filled. Additionally, requests that require extensive review for restricted materials, conservation treatment, or staff research may be delayed until our agency status has changed. Please check our website for updates: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/

Please contact our Reference Staff with your inquiries regarding our collections at 512-463-5455 or ref@tsl.texas.gov..

Discover the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Online Collections from Home

By Gina Watts, Reference Librarian

Unexpectedly find yourself spending some extra time at home? Have you run out of library books and need something new to entertain yourself? The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has just the thing.

Did you know TSLAC has more than five million records online? Governors’ records, historic maps, drawings, photographs and much more are all available for viewing from the comfort of your home. Here are just a few of TSLAC’s collections that are available online now.

Don Kelly Southeast Texas Postcard Collection

Postcard from Beaumont.
Figure 1: 1991.183-18, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Don Kelly was a community leader in Southeast Texas. He collected 1,473 postcards depicting notable scenes of the life, locale, and architecture surrounding the cities of Orange, Beaumont, and Port Arthur. These postcards also feature the Spindletop Oil Field, Sabine Pass, Sour Lake, the Sabine River, and the Neches River. Flip through the collection in the Texas Digital Archive (TDA): https://tsl.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/SO_65bc4475-f1f1-48f3-948e-f5184505306d/

Civilian Conservation Corps Plans and Drawings

CCC drawing for Inks Lake Park.
Figure 2: SP.64.30, Texas Parks Civilian Conservation Corps Drawings collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The United States Congress created the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt as an emergency program devoted to the care of natural resources. The program provided jobs and income to young men and served as an instrument for preserving natural resources and developing state park lands. TSLAC has digitized over three thousand of these drawings that were created in the process of improving state parks. These beautiful images, like the one of Inks Lake pictured above, include plans and renderings of state parks across Texas. Browse the collection on Flickr: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/ccc_flickr.html or search the CCC database here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/apps/arc/CCCDrawings/.

TSLAC Map Collection

1720 map of New Mexico and Louisiana  Territory.
Figure 3: Map 00401, Texas State Archives Map collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Old maps are a window into the way people saw and thought of Texas long ago. This particular map was created circa 1720 and depicts New Mexico, the Louisiana Territory including Texas, and Florida. It includes geographic features like rivers and forests, man-made features like trails, forts and cities, as well as notes regarding Indians, explorers, topography, and French and Spanish battles and establishments. So if you’ve ever wondered what a part of Texas looked like on a map fifty, one hundred, or even 200 years ago, take a look here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/maps/introduction.

Other Online Collections

Many other collections can be accessed on our Online Collections webpage: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/onlinecollections. For example, if you had ancestors in Texas during the Republic era, you may be interested in the Republic Claims database, which includes records of payments made to Texas citizens by the Texas government between 1836 and 1845.

Republic of Texas claim by George Cartwright.
Figure 4: Cartwright, George W., reel 207. Texas State Archives Republic Claims collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

This particular document relates to a claim for George W. Cartwright and details his service in the Battle of Nacogdoches. Use the online search form to find more claims in the database by visiting here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/apps/arc/repclaims/.


All of our exhibits past and present can be viewed online: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/index.html. Lobby exhibits feature digitized versions of the same historical documents, photographs, and audiovisual materials that can be accessed in person. For example, our current lobby exhibit titled “Women’s Power, Women’s Vote” is available here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/lobbyexhibits/womensvote.

Figure 5: “Governor for a Day, Barbara Jordan, June 10, 1972,” image 1973/054-36, Current Events Photographic Documentation Program collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

This photograph features Barbara Jordan serving as Governor for a Day on June 10, 1972, during her tenure in the State Senate. You may notice that many of the examples we have given are part of the Texas Digital Archive. This is the primary location to find digital and digitized archival materials: https://tsl.access.preservica.com/.

We hope you and your families are staying safe and well, and that our online collections spark some interesting conversations.

From “Unplayable” to Searchable Online: the House Recordings Recovery Project

By Steven Kantner, Digital Asset Coordinator

One of the many reel-to-reel recordings marked “unplayable” by the Texas House of Representatives media staff.

In 2007, Texas House of Representatives’ Media Services transferred to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) about 350 reels of audiotape. Most of the recordings dated between 1975 and 1984 and covered the House floor debates from the entire 63rd through 68th Legislative sessions. Many House committee recordings were included as well. At the time the tapes were transferred to TSLAC, the majority of the reels were described by House media staff as “unplayable.” Having been marked as damaged and unplayable, the audiotapes were stored in TSLAC’s climate-controlled stacks awaiting deaccessioning.

State Archives staff revisited this collection in 2017 after digitizing recordings from the House Textbook Committee and others from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Digital Asset Coordinator Steven Kantner, with a background in recording engineering along with a graduate school focus on the preservation of audiovisual materials, recognized the primary issue facing these tapes.

Samples from the House recordings. The few Scotch 207 and Ampex 631 tapes in the set did not require any treatment for playback. However, over 300 Ampex 407 tapes did.

The bulk of the audiotape used in the House recordings from this time period was Ampex 407. Ampex was once a well-known manufacturer of recording devices and produced their own brand of audiotape.

Residues on the surface of the tape’s black back coating, which is the primary suspect as to the increased occurrence of stickiness in tapes manufactured after 1970.
An Ampex tape exhibiting binder degradation. The tape is not falling off the pack tangentially as it would when new.

As years pass, audiotape is known to suffer from binder degradation, also known as “sticky-shed” or “sticky-binder” syndrome. Post-1970 audiotape construction has multiple layers that keeps magnetic and carbon particles attached to the support tape. Over time, these chemical bonds break down from exposure to humidity. Ampex 407 is no exception.

Tapes with this condition will squeal upon playback and can lock up the tape player altogether. This can damage the tape and the players too. While there have been various methods applied to attempt remediation of this degradation, the most successful and widely used is a heat treatment. A pilot test consisting of a random sample of the tapes was conducted to prove salvaging these recordings was possible.

Soon after the first project meeting in April 2018, the effort was underway. Using a scientific lab oven in the State Archives, a dozen reels of tape at a time were carefully heated at 130F/54C for a total of 24 hours. The tapes were cooled down for at least 24 hours before they would be played.

Preparing to bake reel-to-reel tapes in the State Archives oven.

The original Studer ReVox and Sony recorders used to create the tapes were not available. TSLAC bought a brand new Otari MX-5050 reel to reel player in 2014, about one year before Otari ended manufacture of these last modern reel-to-reel players. The original recorders had a tape speed option to slow the tape down to audio-cassette speed (1.875” per second). The Otari does not have that option and only uses faster consumer and production tape speeds.

Capturing a house recording with equipment in the State Archives Digital Lab.

Since no new reel players are on the market today, and working old ones are hard to come by, the recordings were captured at double their original speed, but at a very high digital resolution. This high resolution was to compensate for time duration adjustments after the digitization of the tape. This provided quality better than compact discs and kept audio transfers within digitization guidelines and standards from organizations such as the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives.

While the bulk of the tapes just required heat treatment, some tapes exhibited other damage that occurred during the original recording or subsequent handling.

A tape that was stretched and curled upon itself. The poor tape pack seen here was commonly found on the reels. Some of the tapes continued to exhibit problems with tape pack even after rewinding and playback on the modern reel-to- reel player.

Some tape had strange white residues that formed around old fingerprints left on the tapes. It was determined after viewing under a microscope that it was not mold and was safe to handle.

Nearly all tapes were missing leader tape at the head or tail of the reels.

Splicing a tape and adding a new leader at the head of the reel.

Log books of the recordings were part of the original accession and contain useful metadata about the activities captured in the recordings. These were handwritten notes that included the “counter” information on the original recorder, which unfortunately is information only helpful with the original playback equipment and doesn’t equate to an accurate “time stamp.” However, representatives speaking and bill number information is useful to narrow down what was happening on any given day. These log books were digitized and are provided as a PDF file to browse through to look for names, bill numbers, and any other information a researcher may need. Each page of the PDF is bookmarked with Tape and Side where the audio resides and can be cross-referenced with the recordings.

Log books of the recordings were part of the original accession and contain useful metadata about the activities captured in the recordings.

The original project plan was to provide these to the public as MP3 files along with the PDF log books as an index. However, after some testing, it was found that using artificial intelligence for Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) could be a powerful discovery tool for this collection. For over 1,000 hours recordings, it could cost the State thousands of dollars to send off to a vendor to perform. To hire people to manually write transcriptions would cost even more. Instead, an open source video software tool called ffmpeg was used to convert MP3 audio files into an MP4 video file using a placeholder “frame” for the video image. Then the MP4 was uploaded into a private channel on YouTube. Many of the recordings were just under the time limit set by YouTube, and YouTube (owned by Google and likely using a light version of Google’s ASR) would provide captions within about 24 hours after upload.

A screenshot of a House recording playing with the captions along the bottom of the screen.

The captions are not perfect as there are heavy accents, people speaking simultaneously, and other background chatter on the tapes that confuses the AI – but a large majority of the captioning is accurate. The caption files were downloaded and placed with the recordings. When topics are mentioned or House bill numbers are mentioned, this text is now searchable across the entire Texas Digital Archive – a text search will lead you to the captions – once the caption file is open, then use the FIND feature in your browser to search through the text in the record. A time stamp is included with each line of captioning to help the user pinpoint the audio in the recording. Using ffmpeg, captions were also permanently burned into the video frames so whole recordings are available not only as MP3 audio files, but also as video files with the captions.

The last audiotapes were captured about 15 months after the project kick-off, and within a couple of months all metadata and files were ready for ingest into the Texas Digital Archive. The collection, much of which was inaccessible for many years due to the tape condition, was now available to the public online.

Researchers using this collection have two options: use the log books to locate topics on a given day, or try a text search across a session or the entire collection. If using a text search, it is recommended to try several varieties of how a house bill or other topic could be mentioned. For example, “house bill 131”, “HB 131”, or just “131”. As technology advances further, future discovery improvements may be implemented to make searching and discovery within this large set of recordings even better.

Check out the collection here: Texas House of Representative Recordings