Archive for the 'research' Category

Property research in Austin & Travis County

Interested in researching your property in Travis County? The Austin History Center has produced a handy guide about the variety of resources available to assist in your research.

Property records in the Travis County Archives include Tax Rolls and County Surveyor Records.


Tax rolls at the Travis County Archives

Tax records provide the names of property owners and the tax assessed for each property. A significant increase in taxable value is usually an indicator of an improvement to a piece of land and can be an indicator of building construction.

Travis County tax rolls date from 1861-1933 (with some dates missing). The tax rolls are arranged in alphabetical order by owner name and include such information as abstract, certificate and survey numbers, original grantee, acreage, and value. For property in the city, lot and block numbers and divisions are included.

1861 Tax roll


1861 Tax roll


Travis County surveyor records primarily date from 1838 to 1930 and deal with land, not structures. More recent surveys are not normally recorded by the county and are best obtained directly from the surveyor.

Surveys determine the exact locations and boundaries of a particular piece of property. Surveyor’s field notes are the basis for legal descriptions of property. The earliest records, 1838-1839, date prior to the formal establishment of Travis County, and are therefore referred to as Bastrop County records. Earlier records also include counties outside Travis but within the Travis Land District. Volumes overlap in date, as several volumes were recorded in concurrently.


early Travis County survey books


1841 survey record


Research on the Portal to Texas History

Have you checked to see what’s new from Travis County on the Portal to Texas History? The Travis County Archives is currently working on a project to digitize County Clerk record books from the 1800s. These records are being made available for viewing and research on the Portal to Texas History ( Check back often, as new items are continuously being added!

Records currently available include:

Travis County Commissioners Court Minutes (1839-1919)

Travis County Road Books (1898-1902)

Travis County Court Civil Minutes (1876-1915)

Travis County Court Criminal Minutes (1876-1939)

Travis County Election Records (1876-1885)

Travis County Probate Minutes (1840-1923)

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Preservation work of the Travis County District Clerk

In 2008, District Clerk Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza launched an important project to identify District Court case files of historical significance and to preserve them in their original form for future use and reference. With the assistance of an archivist, and in collaboration with several notable judges, lawyers, and the District Attorney, case files dating from as early as the 1890s through the present were identified and preserved.

Two cases of particular note include case no. 51,394, R.S. Sterling v. Miriam A. Ferguson, et al., 1932, and case no. 74,945, Heman Marion Sweatt v. Theophilus Shickel Painter, et al., 1946. The District Clerk’s Office has provided for the preservation of both of these cases, and they have also been digitized and made available online.

For more about the Sterling v. Ferguson case, please read the Texas Bar Journal’s article on the topic. Click here to view the digitized case.

For more about the Sweatt v. Painter case, please visit the Handbook of Texas entry. Click here to view the digitized case.

To read more about the District Clerk’s preservation work, please visit Ms. Rodriguez-Mendoza will be retiring at the end of 2014, having served in that office since 1991. Her dedication to the preservation of important Travis County records and history is very much appreciated and will long be remembered.

Sweatt Painter Statement of Facts cover

The Servant Girl Murders

In Austin in late 1884-1885, 8 individuals were murdered by what was known as the “Servant Girl Killer.” The victims included Mollie Smith, Eliza Shelley, Irene Cross, Mary Ramey, Orange Washingon, Gracie Vance, Susan Hancock, and Eula Phillips.


The Servant Girl Murders were a series of crimes, including eight murders, carried out by an elusive killer who subjected the city of Austin, Texas to an unprecedented reign of terror during the course of the year 1885.

The victims of the crimes were “servant girls” – usually young, African-American women who at that time were commonly employed as domestic servants in many Austin households.  The epithet “servant girl murders” is perhaps something of a misnomer – one of the victims was male, the boyfriend of one of the slain women; one victim was a child, the daughter of a servant who was herself attacked but not killed; and the last two victims were married white women, neither of them servants.

Many theories were put forward and as the crimes continued without resolution, speculations about the perpetrators and their elusive abilities grew more fantastic.  The crime scenes were consistent – a bloody axe or other implement was often left behind, sometimes footprints were found and bloodhounds were used to track suspects.  The police arrested several suspects, but responsibility for the crimes could not be proven conclusively.

Over time, public outrage grew and the police force was frequently declared ineffectual and incompetent… After the murder of two white women on Christmas Eve, the city was on the verge of chaos.  The public demanded action regardless of the consequences and mob violence was a real possibility. All the efforts to stop the crimes had failed and a confounded city awaited the next outrage, but after December there were no further mysterious murders.  Officially the crimes remained unsolved.

The Travis County Archives staff recently uncovered 4 documents relating to the servant girl murders: an autopsy and inquest for victim Susan Hancock, and records for the criminal cases against Moses Hancock and James Phillips, who were charged for the murders of their respective wives. These documents are part of the District Clerk collection at the Archives, but they are not included in the criminal case records microfilm at the office of the District Clerk.

Click on the links to view PDFs of the documents; please contact the Archives to view in person.

Susan Hancock Autopsy 1885

Susan Hancock Inquest 1885

State v. Jas. O. Phillips, No. 7856, 1886

State v. Moses Hancock, No. 7898, 1886 (please note: first 4 pages are missing)

Autopsy of Susan Hancock, 1885

Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 a

Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 b Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 c Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 d


Genealogical Research Using County Records

Interested in doing genealogical research using county records?  Here is a short slideshow that discusses the types of records available at Travis County and how to go about accessing them. (Click on the arrows at the bottom right-hand corner of the box to expand the slideshow to full screen mode.)

Flickr Photos

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