December 2009  
Dear Readers:  
Happy Holidays from all of us in the County Judge’s Office.

The holiday season is always a time of reflection, so we are dedicating this month’s newsletter to the Harris County Archives, a little-known treasure.

Ed Emmett
County Judge

Harris County Archives: Unlocking Harris County History

When Commissioners Court established the Harris County Archives in November 2002, Harris County became the first of 254 counties in Texas to have a professionally run county archives as a component of a Records Management Plan. Since the archives officially opened in April 2004, County Archivist Sarah Jackson and her staff have handled 1,167 queries, pulled 3,291 records, accommodated 520 patrons, and devoted 3,186 hours to reference for the public or county employees and departments. Sixty-five percent of all reference queries are handled by the archives staff. These records do not include those of the County Clerk or District Clerk.
The archives began with space, no budget, a professional archivist, and records – 22 pallets of records from the Assessor-Collector of Taxes. Within the first eight months, over 1,000 volumes and 40 cubic feet of Harris County records were repatriated from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center where they had been on deposit since the early 1980s as a part of the Regional Historical Records Depository Program of the Texas State Library and Archives.
Initial acquisition, Assessor and Collector of Taxes, December 2002.

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Repatriation of records from the HMRC, July 2003.

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Individuals such as Fern Lyons donated 24 scrapbooks belonging to her late husband, Commissioner Squatty Lyons, and their friend County Judge Glenn Perry. Records stored in the Records Center, such as the Land and Building Assessment cards, saved from destruction by researcher Janet Wagner and Records Manager Paul Scott in the early 1990s, found a permanent home in the archives. And county departments transferred records formerly stored in closets or pushed aside on shelves and filing cabinets to the archives to be secure, to guarantee their preservation, and to be made accessible to the public, many for the first time.

As more individuals and departments became aware of the archives, the number of records grew. Currently, the archives has approximately 3,000 cubic feet of records and 6,600 individual volumes.

When records are transferred to the archives, the originating office no longer “owns” them. The archives processes the records using the archival principles of provenance and original order – that is, keeping records of the same source together to preserve their context and maintaining the sequence of records established by the author of the records. Preservation problems are noted, and the records are usually rehoused in acid-free and alkaline-buffered folders and boxes to protect them and to ensure their longevity. After the collections are processed, shelved, and entered into a database, a finding aid (see example) is written describing the creator of the records, the scope and content of the collection, and an inventory.

Among the users of the Harris County Archives are lawyers, historians, police officers, genealogists, home owners, researchers, documentary film producers, reporters, and county departments. They use the Tax Records to trace property ownership, settle insurance claims, and research neighborhoods; Inquest and Medical Examiner’s records to investigate unsolved cases; and Juvenile Probation records for the history of the treatment of dependent and delinquent children. Families research the history of their homes and property and find family information in county department case files and Justice of the Peace records. Those interested in the history of the county can access county maps (1904 – 1967) online.

Reference Area, Harris County Archives,
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The Harris County Archives is located on the 12th Floor of the Criminal Justice Center and is open from 1 – 4 PM on Tuesdays, and all other times by appointment. It is highly recommended to call 713-755-6890 before coming. The archivists can make sure the information is available (for example, the archives does not have marriage licenses) and that the archives will be open. The archives staff makes every effort to accommodate researchers and their schedules. Also, there are restrictions on some records series, and if there will be a problem in accessing the records, that information can also be conveyed.

In addition to contact information, the Harris County Archives Web site contains information about researching the county records, manuscript collections, and oral histories. All the completed finding aids (though not all the records) are posted to the Web site in addition to specialized information. For example, all the Justice Court Dockets (1852 – 1870) have been every-name indexed, and the information can be searched in PDF format. “Pathfinders” are inventories arranged by subject matter or format. The transcripts of completed oral histories are also available in PDF format.

Just seven years after Commissioners Court took the unprecedented move of approving the creation of a county archives in 2002, the Harris County Archives exists as a model for other counties in Texas. By preserving the county’s historic and permanent records and making them available to anyone, regardless of residence, Harris County unlocks its history.

Case No. 198, Chas. Frederick vs. Mrs. T. S. Lubbock,
July 1867, Justice Court Docket 25_09.

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Records Series (incomplete):
Records of the Assessor and Collector of Taxes (1895-1997) including Block Books, Poll Tax and Voter Registration lists, Microfilm, Maps, Building and Land Assessment Cards; Auditor's Records (1846 - 1983) including Voucher Registers, Bond Registers, School Financial Records, Flood Control, Navigation District, Annual Reports, Fee Officer Reports; Treasurer's Records; JP Records (1846 - 1966) including Civil and Criminal Dockets and Case Files, Forcible Detainers, and Inquest Records; Welfare Case Files (most stripped) (1921 - 1981) including WPA Applications (1936 – 1938); Medical Examiner’s (1957 – 2004) Inquests and Views, Administrative Logs, Clipping Files, Offense Reports, Autopsy Photographs, Autopsy Case Files (1957 – 1979); scrapbooks of E. A. "Squatty" Lyons, Jamie Bray, Glenn A. Perry, Bob Eckels, Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk, Jim Fonteno, Mike Driscoll, and Carol Vance (1943 - 2002); Juvenile Records (1914 – 1989) including Administrative Records, Case Files, and Children’s Home Records; County Attorney Records; Board of Trustees of Bayland Orphan Home Records (1867 - 1948); Commissioner Jim Fonteno’s Audio/Visual records; Community Development; Harris County Hospital District media files (1938 – 1998); Precinct 3 Subject Files (1979 – 2003); County Judge Records (1956 – 2007); Harris County Public Library Records; Harris County Historical Commission; William G. Sharman Collection; Right of Way Deed Records.