Through the Lens of History - Republic of Texas-Era Court Cases Shed New Light on State's Past
At the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building in Austin, a long-term project to conserve and index early Texas Supreme Court records is underway. Archivists involved in that effort reveal how those legal files, dating back to the formation of the Republic of Texas and into early statehood, can be a treasure trove of historical information on 19th -century social and cultural issues.
Image, page 8: Close-up of one of the early Texas S u preme Court case records; these documents reflect not only legal history, but also the social and cultural life during the Republic and early statehood eras. A b o v e : The poor condition of this 1836 court case validates the work being done to c o n serve and protect these fragile historical records. Flattening the folds will allow for future digitization of the document for online accessibility. Saegert and project assistant, Stefanie Lapka, who holds a graduate degree in information science, are the archivists in charge of this initial segment of a long-term project to restore and index thousands of early Texas Supreme Court records currently languishing at the state archives. This effort is the first step in preserving information from a relatively unexplored area of Texas history and providing a valuable resource for researchers and historians that will further add to the state's historical record. The project received a boost in 2012 when the Texas Historical Foundation awarded a preservation grant to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to help fund this work. That assistance came from THF's Texas Legal History Preservation Trust, an endowment created to help save the state's legal past. Attorney Marshall Doke, former president and chairman of the board of THF and the driving force behind the creation of the Foundation's legal history endowment, immediately recognized the importance of the TSLAC project. He says, "What could be more credible information about this time period than these court decisions containing facts determined by a judge or jury based on admissible evidence? The information is tremendously important Texas history." The objective of the project is to preserve these legal documents for future scanning and the subsequent creation of an online database. According to Saegert, there is great public interest in the progress of the project. "We know from inquiries we've received that researchers are eager for the Texas Supreme Court case files to be available in digital format." The ease of electronic access invites scholarly study from around the globe, and indexing allows researchers to locate case files 10 TEXAS HERITAGE | V o l u m e 2 2013