Due to financial and staff constraints, not all historical artifacts can receive the same attention. That was the case for the 1840-1870 Texas Supreme Court case files that languished for years on the shelves of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin.
The documents record Lone Star legal history following the founding of the Republic and through the Civil War. Their importance to Texas history is unquestionable, but because of a limited budget, TSLAC, the state agency responsible for their care, was forced to prioritize work and unable to give the highest consideration to these papers.
The project received a boost in 2012 when the Texas Historical Foundation awarded a preservation grant to help fund this important work. Assistance came from THF’s Texas Legal History Preservation Trust, an endowment created to help save the state’s legal past. Since that first gift, three additional grants have been made to fund the services of a conservationist responsible for the preservation and digital indexing of the files. Once the project is completed, these documents will be available for researchers and the general public.
In addition to the bureaucratic matters included in the files, other cases illustrate the way that Texas has changed socially through time. One example is an action from the 1850s where a woman filed for divorce from her husband, who she claimed was abusive. According to an archivist working on the project, the petition was interesting because the circumstances of the marriage were clearly detailed and more complete than other cases of that time.
Many of the files that are being conserved will be useful to those researching their genealogies, particularly individuals tracking families torn apart by slavery—records that are sensitive and difficult to read but contain important details.
Attorney Marshall Doke, Jr., former THF president and chairman of the board and the driving force behind the creation of the Foundation’s legal history endowment, recognized the importance of the TSLAC project. He said, “What could be more credible information about this time period than these court decisions containing facts determined by a judge or jury based on admissible evidence? This information is tremendously important Texas history.”