Public records, unfortunately, aren’t always as easy to obtain as you’d like them to be. In some cases, this is due to the nature of the bodies in charge of them; recent cases in which high costs or attempted obscurity have hindered the efforts of individuals to acquire public records have demonstrated this. Many times, however, it can simply just be a hard matter to track down which types of offices hold which types of records. While this can be a problem in any state, the issue is compounded when researching in a large jurisdiction, like Texas. Texas is also known as a “closed records state,” meaning certain documents are only available to individuals named in them or to their close family. Knowing how to navigate these public records pathways can be tricky, but hopefully this article will make it a bit easier for you.
Many of the records that you’ll find at the state level are going to be very general. Many of these are known as “Vital” records, and refer to the beginning and loss of life (birth and death certificates). In some cases, other documents like marriage licenses and divorce certificates can also be found in state archives. With state-level records, some information is held by specific agencies – and you’ll find this is often the case in larger states, as delegating records duties to various bodies helps things stay more organized. For vital records, for example, one should connect with the Department of State Health Services, which can be contacted either online, in person, over the phone, or by mail. For other state filings, like historical newspaper records, you should contact the national or state archive branch nearest you.
Many of the most commonly requested public records items are handled at the county level. This can mean you have a bit of tracking down to do in some cases. To obtain these types of records you should contact your local clerk’s office or courthouse – sometimes records are still held in town hall buildings as well. Property records are a prime example of something you would find at the county level. Additionally, many case dockets for legal filings can be found here as well. Of course, Texas is huge, and there are a whole lot of counties to sort through if you don’t have a precise location, as is often the case with genealogical and historical research where past county lines have shifted or been added. Luckily, the state has compiled an online list of counties and search tool to help you find what you need at the county level. This not only vastly speeds up acquisition times, but also helps to normalize for variation in how different counties kept their records or handled filing requests. Criminal records, including the sex offenders registry, are also usually accessible at the county level in Texas.
As mentioned previously, some records are split between individual organizations. Driving records, for example, are publicly viewable for every private and commercial driver in the state through the Department of Public Safety. If a record you’re looking for can’t be found in state or county offices, it may be handled by a specifically tasked independent body.