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Not all missing documents are part of a grand conspiracy
Posted by: Clay Riley (ID *****2598) Date: January 31, 2007 at 15:26:33
  of 15140

Having seen many comments about county courthouses and their ability, or inability, to protect and preserve documents, I would like to make a few comments relative to courthouse records in general and the Brown County, Texas Courthouse in particular.

Many documents are undoubtedly misplaced or in some instances lost over a long period of time. In the case of Brown County, the second courthouse, although constructed of stone, burned in 1880. This accounts for many documents being lost that dated prior to 1880. But, as in all communities, the paperwork that eventually ends up in the courthouse for warehousing, takes a circuitous trip. Many documents having to do with the legal system, are in the possession of individual litigants, lawyers or county employees at any given time, away from the courthouse, thus escape being destroyed by mishaps or misfortune at the courthouse.

A good example is a piece of property purchased by an individual in 1877, was not taken to the courthouse until 1881 for recording. This happened to William C. Anderson in 1877, when he purchased land from his father-in-law Moses G. Anderson of the Salt Creek area. One would think the 1880 courthouse fire would have destroyed this document, but its tardy arrival at the courthouse insured its survival. And it indeed does exist at the courthouse.

Another example of surviving documents, are the District or County Surveyor's field notes. These notes are usually recorded in a log book taken by the surveyor to the area to be surveyed. Later these field notes detailing for whom, when, where and legal description (metes and bounds) are recorded and later transferred to the "official" survey land description document used for the patent or deed. Here again, the original field notes exist for the W.C. Anderson Preemption, and as luck would have it, William C. Anderson had the original State of Texas Preemption Document along with it's seal and signatures. Due to its use in another legal case, it still exists at the courthouse as does one for Moses G. Anderson in the same case in 1924.

Considering the ravages of fire and flood, the courthouse employees in Brown County, Texas, do an outstanding job protecting the documents of our community, as evidenced by the survival of some many old and precious documents in their trust and care.

Undertakers are usually the last individual to have the death certificate of the deceased, particularly in earlier times of the last century, since they also acted as coroner. They were then normally taken the courthouse and duly recorded. Another good example is the recent discovery of an Undertaker's Funeral Book that was left behind at the courthouse, while the undertaker was at the courthouse doing business. Prior to the discovery of this book, no one knew this Undertaker was in Brown County in 1910 -1911, or that he had a business and performed some 38 funerals before it was discovered that he was not licensed to practice in the State of Texas. This may be why the precipitous departure from the courthouse, leaving behind his Funeral Book with a death certificate inside the book that had not been filed. The County Officials filed the death certificate, some 95 years after the fact, but the certificate was not filed by the notorious Mr. Piper.

I am sure that many people over the years have been researching individuals that had not had their death certificates recorded properly at the courthouse. As you can see, there are many and varied reasons as to why a particular document may not be available at the courthouse. Unfortunately, individuals accessing these archives may tear out pages from books or logs, forever depriving others the information on that very page or the reverse side. Do not be too hasty to blame the courthouse employees, for many times, we the public, past and present, are to blame.


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