By: Carolyn L. Barkley
I was eight years old when the movie “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier,” starring Fess Parker, was released in 1955. At that age I regularly devoured juvenile historical novels, particularly a series of titles of the “you were there” variety. One of these told the story of the siege of the Alamo, and I spent a summer happily recreating history while wearing my red felt Davy Crockett cowboy hat with the fringed brim (but how I yearned for a coonskin cap!). I remembered that hat last Thursday as I visited the Alamo in San Antonio. While I have “GTT” (gone to Texas) on three other occasions, San Antonio has always been on my bucket list of places to visit and I was not disappointed.
Somehow, Texas always seems exotic to me – a place far away (particularly to that eight year old) with a history quite different than that of Massachusetts or Virginia, the two states in which I have lived the longest. It has held an allure for individuals for a long time, if evidenced only by discovery of the number of Barkley families who left North Carolina, travelled through Missouri, and settled in Texas. Whether it was land, refuge from the law, or some other reason, many families have Texas connections. If our family trees include such migration, knowledge about Texas genealogical resources will be important for the success of our research.
As always, I recommend acquiring an historical overview of a new geographical location before starting to search in the records. History has a way of creating a need for a specific type of record or record content, and it is important to understand why specific records were created. Texas history is more complicated than that of the original thirteen colonies, for example, so a working knowledge of its chronology is essential.
The Spanish settled the area we know as Texas in 1682 as part of New Spain, creating a string of missions and military outposts, with San Antonio becoming the military headquarters by 1718. Nine years later, the province of Texas was established, although its boundaries were not clearly delineated, and settlers began to arrive. Because of the rather vaguely drawn boundaries, border disputes with the United States were inevitable, beginning as early as 1803 and the completion of the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and naturally claimed Texas as its own. Although Mexico much preferred Catholic settlers, they did authorize some American settlers and these began to arrive in large numbers throughout the 1820s. Conflict was inevitable. After the Texans successfully drove Mexican forces out of Texas, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, led his army against the Texas forces. The resulting siege at the Alamo lasted from 23 February to 6 March 1836, and while that battle ended in defeat for the Americans, the rebels proclaimed the Republic of Texas on 2 March. The Texan victory at the Battle of San Jacinto followed quickly on 21 April. The war was over.
The Republic of Texas would last for nine years, culminating with its acceptance into the Union in 1845 as the twenty-eighth state. This action would again provoke war. President Polk declared war against Mexico the following year and it would last for two years, providing the American army with a rehearsal for the catastrophic conflict which would begin not quite twenty years later. Texas seceded from the Union on 1 February 1861 and joined the Confederate States of America on 2 March of that year, just twenty-five years to the day after the formation of the Republic of Texas. It would not be readmitted into the Union until 30 March 1870.
Each of these historical events created records which may prove essential to your research into a family whose members you have documented as having “GTT.” To begin to understand the records themselves, an essential source is Imogene and Leon Kennedy’s Genealogical Records in Texas (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987, reprinted 2005). This title, in text and maps, provides detailed information on the legal and historical background of the state, the origin of each county, the location of the records for each portion of the county before it was organized into its present boundaries, and the specific records available in the various county courthouses, the Texas State Library, the Texas State Archives, and the Texas General Land Office. Other online background resources are also useful, including the FamilySearch wiki page for Texas, Texas Genealogy Records, the Texas GenWeb Project, Texas Genealogy and History” and the Texas Genealogy and History Guide. Cyndi’s List provides links to 9,102 links concerning Texas. A thorough search through these various online sites will provide access to a great deal of useful information.
Ancestry.com includes a number of Texas-related databases. One Ancestry database caught my eye: Texas Marriage Collection, 1814-1909, 1966-2002. My standard Barkley surname search identified 3,055 Barkleys. Entries identify the date of the marriage, spouse’s name, and the county in which the marriage occurred. For example, Alfred Barkley married Elizabeth Hanna on 11 May 1844 in Harrison County, Texas. A major caveat, however, is that no digital image is available for these records on Ancestry. Instead, you are provided with the Family History Library film number and an opportunity to go to the VitalCheck website to order a copy of the original document (at a cost equaling the fee charged by the state or county agency owning the record plus the VitalChek.com’s $5.00 to $16.00 processing fee). Another Ancestry database, Texas Land Title Abstracts, 1700-2008, provides “abstracts of original titles located in the archives of the Texas General Land Office in Austin … [These] records provide information about lands granted and transferred within the state of Texas including those dated in the 1700s. Fields of information include the district name (a three-letter code), the county, page in original document, grantee, patentee, date, volume, description/location, acreage, class, file, and any additional data found in the record.” My Barkley search in this database identified a grantee, John A. Barkley, certificate 699, who patented 640 acres of land in Robertson District, Hill County, on 4 August 1853. His patent is available in file 587, patent #262, patent volume 2. I also located Stephen F. Austin (born in Virginia, raised in Missouri), who had one of the first legal grants of land in Texas and led a group of 300 American families into the Texas territory in the early 1820s. His land holdings were vast. In January 1830 alone, he patented 23,028 acres of land.
Major genealogical and Texas history collections can be found at the Dallas Library, the Clayton Library in Houston, the Texas State Library and Archives Division in Austin, and the Texas State Historical Association in Austin. Individuals interested in a related lineage society might consult The Sons of the Republic of Texas website.
One of the highlights of my trip to San Antonio (amid wonderful food and great margaritas) was the after-hours tour of the Alamo that was arranged by the group whose annual meeting I was attending. The grounds are much more extensive than I realized, the landscaping very lush, the mission building much smaller than anticipated. It was redolent, however, with atmosphere, and it was enough just to stand in the mission building or in the reconstructed long barracks and imagine its early surroundings and the events that took place there. I was particularly pleased to be there with a friend who has an ancestor who died there: Micajah Autry, born in 1794 in Sampson County, North Carolina, but by the time of the Alamo siege, a resident of Tennessee. An expert marksman, Micajah was a private in Harrison’s Company, Volunteer Auxiliary Corps.
Before leaving the Alamo grounds, I was drawn to the shelves of books for sale in the gift shop. Never one to ignore the lure of adding to my already overflowing shelves, I purchased two that would provide me with a good overview of Texas history. The first, Going to Texas: Five Centuries of Texas Maps (The Center for Texas Studies at TCU, 2007), provides maps and explanatory text covering the period 1519 to the twentieth century. Its visual representation provides a good understanding of Texas history, but in some cases, maps were readable only with magnification. After pouring over a number of appealing titles on the Texas Revolution, I opted for Gary S. Zaboly’s An Altar for Their Sons: the Alamo and the Texas Revolution in Contemporary Newspaper Accounts (State House Press, 2011), which provides a unique first-hand account of this turbulent period in Texas history. Information is provided from contemporary documents, broadsides, field reports, letters, diary excerpts, personal interviews, as well as from reprints of materials from later newspapers and journals. One of the latter is an interesting report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 22 February 1914 describing the discovery of rows of cypress and cedar posts from the palisades of the mission discovered by workers while excavating for a San Antonio telephone company.
Here are some other titles about Texas and Texas research available on genealogical.com:
Austin [Texas] Colony Pioneers by Worth Stickley Ray (1949, Clearfield, reprinted 1995).
Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas by Gifford White (1985, Clearfield, reprinted 2007)
Kentucky Colonization in Texas: a History of the Peters Colony by Seymor V. Connor (1953, Clearfield, reprinted 2007).
Mayflower Descendants in the State of Texas and Their Lineages, Vol. III: Lineages 735-1400, compiled by Barbara Lewis Williams (Gateway, 2002; available from the author)
Mayflower Descendants in the State of Texas and Their Lineages, Vol. V: Lineages 1401-2385, compiled by Barbara Lewis Williams (Gateway, 2005; available from the author)
New Homes in a New Land: German Immigration to Texas, 1847-1861 by Ethel H. Geue (1970, Clearfield, reprinted 2006).
A New Land Beckoned: German Immigration to Texas, 1844-1847 by Chester W. and Ethel H. Geue (1972, Clearfield, reprinted 2006)
Republic of Texas Poll Lists for 1846 by Marion Day Mullins (1974, Clearfield, reprinted 2003).
Stephen F. Austin’s Register of Families by Villamae Williams (1984, Clearfield, reprinted 2000).