A Guide to the Clerk Returns Collection, 1837-1873
A clerk return is a document created by the appointed clerk for the county board of land commissioners that records information associated with the issuance of a land certificate. The clerk was appointed by the Texas Legislature to insure impartiality. Additionally, a copy of the documents was to be returned to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, hence the name " clerk return." Section 14 of a legislative act approved December 14, 1837 defines the responsibility of the county clerk in regard to the transactions of the boards of land commissioners. The clerk shall keep, "a correct account of all the transactions of the board of land commissioners, the name of every person to whom a certificate shall be given, the amount of land granted to each person, the time of their emigration to the country, and the name or names of the witness or witnesses, by whom the claimants severally proved their claims; and the clerk shall, at the end of every month, forward to the commissioner of the general land office, a correct list of names to whom certificates have been given, the amount of land granted to each individual, and the date of the claimant's emigration to the country; and the said commissioner of the general land office shall keep a record of all such returns which may be made to his office" ("Laws of Texas", Volume 1, p 1409).
Although the law specified that returns should be made monthly, and some of the first ones were, most were in fact made quarterly. Despite the specific instructions in the law as to what information the returns should contain, and despite numerous admonishments from Land Commissioner John P. Borden to clerks who did not fill out the returns correctly, the returns vary wildly in form and content.
At the time, the clerk returns were used to serve an administrative purpose; as a check on the land distribution system by the county boards of commissioners. Today the documents serve a genealogical purpose by providing families with the movements and acquaintances of their ancestors.
Gammel, Hans Peter Mareus Neilsen. The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897 Volume 1, Book, 1898; digital images, ( http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth5872/ : accessed February 13, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries, Denton, Texas.
Clerk Returns contain the following legally mandated data:
the name of every person to whom a certificate shall be given,
the amount of land granted to each person,
the time of their emigration to the country,
the name or names of the witness or witnesses by whom the claimants severally proved their claims.
Clerk Returns are filed by county then by date of report.
During the interval of time that clerk returns were filed there were only 89-92 counties covering the amount of land of the current 254. The container list for this collection notes 3 counties which no longer exist. Harrisburg County was renamed Harris County in 1839. The counties Spring Creek and Paschal were "Judicial" counties, a designation that was ruled unconstitutional in 1842. Paschal became Hopkins, Franklin, Titus, Morris, Cass and most of Marion County. Spring Creek became parts of Grimes, Montgomery, and Harris counties.
Seymour V. Connor, "HARRISBURG COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hch91), accessed February 13, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Andrew Forest Muir, "SPRING CREEK COUNTY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcs52), accessed February 10, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Seymour V. Connor, "PASCHAL COUNTY (JUDICIAL)," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcp52), accessed February 13, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted and may be freely used in any way. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
[Short title of Document], [Date: Day-Month-Year]. Box [#], Folder [#], p. [#]. Clerk Returns Collection (AR.36). Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin.
Records have been microfilmed. Original reels are stored at TSLAC records center, and duplicate reels are available at TGLO.
Materials have been digitized and are searchable using the Land Grants Database at http://www.glo.texas.gov/cf/land-grant-search/. Use "Clerk Return" as Class, and enter county, grantee, and any other search terms desired.
Detailed Description of the Collection