Clayton HouseMain Library

Susan D. Kaufman 

Houston, Texas, is home to the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston Public Library (HPL). This nationally recognized family history research library is part of the Special Collections Unit of the Houston Public Library.  Houston, Texas is the 4th largest city in the United States with a population of 2.3 million living in 600 square miles of Harris County, located along the western Gulf of Mexico. 

The Special Collections Unit of HPL includes the Clayton Library; the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and Texas Room; and the African American Library at the Gregory School (opening fall 2009).  These units act interdependently in forming a three pronged approach to the personal and local history of the United States, the Gulf Coast, and Texas. 

The Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) includes archival, Texan and local history, and special collections departments whose primary objectives are locating, preserving, and making available to researchers the documentary evidence of Houston’s history.

The African American Library at the Gregory School, Houston’s first colored public school located in historic Freedmen’s Town, serves as a resource and repository to preserve, promote, and celebrate the rich history and culture of African Americans in Houston, the surrounding region, and the African Diaspora.

The Clayton Library houses national and international collections of family history research materials in print, microprint, and online. These include published and unpublished family histories, vital records, state and county histories, and information and materials from all over the United States, as well as from foreign countries such as Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The library is staffed by professionals who are conversant with genealogy, whose areas of expertise include, but are not limited to the Gulf Coast, other regions of the United States, and the British Isles.  Clayton librarians are also knowledgeable about military research, 20th century research, immigration, and more.  The staff is customer service oriented, know the collection well, and can guide you to specific sources for your specific research query.   

The Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research was founded in 1921 as a special collection for genealogical research at Houston Public Library. The collection was originally housed in the Julia Ideson Building in downtown Houston. In 1968, the genealogical collection was relocated to the Clayton Home at 5300 Caroline Street in Houston’s historic Museum District and renamed the Clayton Library. The Clayton home, built in 1917, is a three story brick Georgian style house designed by Birdsall P. Briscoe. The house was the home of Houston businessman and statesman William Lockhart Clayton and his wife, Susan Ada Vaughn Clayton, until 1958 when it was deeded to the City of Houston to be used for library purposes.
The growth in the physical size of the genealogy collection created a need for an expanded location for the Clayton Library. Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, the site for a new building was purchased in 1986 next door to the Clayton Home. The new facility was built in 1988 in a style designed to complement the Clayton Home. Furniture and equipment for the new building was funded by a grant from the Houston Endowment Inc. through the Clayton Library Friends.

Today, the Clayton Library is housed in a two-building complex encompassing the “new” Clayton Building and the former Clayton Home. The main facility currently houses the library’s entire collection. The extensive collection of U.S. and foreign books, and CD-ROMs are on the first floor, and the second floor houses the microprint collection and the collection of over 5,000 family histories and the family vertical files. Thousands of researchers from all over the United States visit the Clayton Library every month.


The Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research houses a national and international collection of family history research materials in print, microprint and on-line. The collection includes published and unpublished family histories, vital records, state and county histories, and information and materials from all over the United States, as well as foreign countries such as Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The Clayton Library has been named one of the top nine genealogical libraries in the nation to visit by Family Tree magazine (July 2008) and continues to be a destination for family history researchers from across the country.

The library holds all U.S. federal population census records, select mortality, agricultural and manufacturing censuses, slave schedules, and state census schedules.  Our military records include federal service records from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection.  Our Confederate pension applications collection continues to increase with purchases by the Clayton Library Friends.

Our passenger list collection covers most eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast ports from 1820 to 1900.  Our 20th century border crossing records, especially for southern borders, is an area of current collection development.

Local United States records make up the bulk of our collection.  These include vital records, histories, land records, cemetery records, and much more for almost every county in every state where available.  Our collection also includes Texas birth and death indexes and certificates where available.

Genealogy periodicals are often an under-utilized source of material.  At Clayton we hold more than 2,500 genealogy and local history periodicals including many indexes in PERSI, the Periodical Source Index available from Heritage Quest that may be available via your local library.



In addition to its extensive holdings, Clayton Library offers monthly programming on genealogical research topics and resources in our newly renovated meeting room, the Clayton Carriage House. The Clayton Carriage House is a premier meeting space, containing LCD projectors and other AV equipment for library and community use. Starting this fall, Clayton Main House will offer an Affiliate Microfilm Rental Program in partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This exciting program will allow users of the Clayton Library to rent microfilm from the largest genealogy library in the world, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Clayton Main House will also offer rotating exhibits reflective of William Clayton’s life and times (1880 – 1966), Houston history, Museum District and neighborhood history, and other highlights of Houston. The exhibits presented in the restored family home will highlight materials from all three HPL Special Collections Units: Clayton Library, the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, and the African American Library at the Gregory School. Some of the other planned activities for the Clayton Main House include creating a Gulf Coast Scholarly Genealogical/Historical research center with some of the materials currently owned by Clayton Library.

The renovation of the Clayton House’s three buildings was a combined effort between HPL, the City of Houston, the Clayton Family Foundation, and the Clayton Library Friends. The project has been submitted for a gold–level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification under strict standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The staff of Clayton Library invites you to visit this beautiful renovation project. The residents of Houston are very lucky to have a world class genealogical research center on their doorsteps, and we hope you also visit us in the main library to start researching your family history. We offer personalized, professional research assistance in guiding you to materials applicable to your specific research query.

The hours of operation are Mon 9 – 5; Tues, Wed, Thurs 9 – 9; Fri – Sat 9 – 5. For more information, please call 832-393-2600, or visit our website.

Susan D. Kaufman is Manager of the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston Public Library, Houston, Texas. She was previously a staff member in the Genealogy Center at the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Public Library. She holds a Masters degree in Library Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Administration of Justice. She is a frequent lecturer on genealogical librarianship and methodology at national and other conferences.


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