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.
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.
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 email@example.com or 512-463-5455.