Texas Family History Research
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D. FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Native American tribes resided in the area when present-day Texas was settled in 1682 by the Spanish at Isleta, near today’s El Paso. Between 1685 and 1700, Franciscan missions and Spanish military outposts (presidios) were established in east Texas at Nacogdoches, Goliad, and San Antonio. In 1718 San Antonio, with its military post and mission, became the administrative headquarters of the region under Spanish jurisdiction. The province of Texas was established in 1727 with vaguely defined boundaries. Groups of colonists supplemented the population of soldiers and priests, particularly in San Antonio and in smaller numbers elsewhere. Early municipalities were organized in Texas under the Spanish and Mexican governments. Between 1731 and 1836 twenty-nine political subdivisions were founded completely or partially in Texas.
As a result of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, a boundary dispute erupted with Spain over the Louisiana-Texas border. Spain claimed land east to the Red River, while the United States contended its territory expanded west to the Sabine River. A region of neutral ground created in 1806 established a temporary compromise, but because neither country had jurisdiction over this area, it became a haven for outlaws. Beginning about 1809, Quapaw, Osage, and Oto tribes relocated into the region.
Louisiana Catholics were encouraged to emigrate and settle in Texas, and Spanish officials loosened traditional barriers against alien immigration. The Sabine River was accepted as the western boundary of Louisiana in 1819, although border problems continued. The next year Arkansas Territory’s Miller County was organized, with land partially inside the Texas border.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 and claimed the area of today’s Texas. The Mexican government, while insisting that only immigrants of the Roman Catholic faith were desired, did permit American settlers to enter under the auspices of certain grantees (impresarios).
When Stephen F. Austin, the first American impresario, inherited his father’s grant, he established a colony in Texas under the auspices of the new nation of Mexico. His colonists were among the first Anglo-Americans to settle in present-day Texas. Boundaries remained undefined, and colonists spread from the coast to the old San Antonio road and between the Lavaca and San Jacinto rivers. Austin’s colony stimulated others to follow.
Contracts from the Mexican government continued to be issued for settlement through 1832. Large groups from Tennessee and Arkansas migrated into Texas beginning in the 1820s. Others from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky followed. The municipality of Refugio was created in 1825, followed by Austin in 1827, Goliad about 1828, and Nacogdoches and Liberty in 1831. Duplication of granted land and undefined boundaries complicated land titles. The number of early municipalities, organized in the eighteenth century under Spanish and Mexican governments, increased in the 1830s. A comparison of names of early and later municipalities reflects the great influx of Americans into present-day Texas during this period.
Families from South Carolina and Georgia migrated overland through Alabama and Mississippi to Texas; others left Alabama and Mississippi for Texas. Some traveled by ship from the port at New Orleans to Galveston and Indianola.
When General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna led his Mexican troops against American forces, the Battle of the Alamo became the most famous of the battles that took place among the ensuing military conflict. Four days before the decisive victory at San Jacinto, the Republic of Texas was established on 2 March 1836.
By 1836 American citizens residing in the state actively promoted statehood for Texas. To encourage immigration the Republic of Texas offered colonization contracts beginning in 1841. After some boundaries were defined and settled, Congress accepted the Republic of Texas into the Union in 1845 as the twenty-eighth state.
Texas’s entry into the union incited the Mexicans and led to the Mexican War, 1846–48, which was fought over and on Texas soil. The Mexican government hoped to retain Texas and other territory in the southwest including California, land both countries claimed. The United States was victorious and made good its claims to the southwest.
To make the area suitable for extending settlements, a number of fortifications were built by the federal government to protect settlers from attacks by Native Americans. Conflict with native groups continued intermittently through the early decades of statehood.
Prior to 1850, over 30,000 Germans had settled in Texas. Sympathies were divided among Texans over the slavery and states’ rights issues that preceded the hostilities between the North and the South. Over the objections of Governor Samuel Houston and the German settlers, Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, supplying many soldiers to the Confederate army. Texas was readmitted in 1866.
Expansion of cotton and wheat production, livestock, and oil provided great stimuli for growth. In addition to the Germans, several other groups of European immigrants settled in Texas, including Czechs, Poles, Swedes, Norwegians, and Irish. During the Depression, the Post Cereal Company offered inexpensive land in west Texas for those who would contract to grow grain for the company’s products. The state has continued to be a destination point for its Mexican neighbors seeking employment in farm and industry.