Tejano Genealogy Beyond South Texas at the Texas General Land Office
This post is sponsored by the Tejano Genealogical Society of Austin.
The Texas General Land Office is widely recognized for its archival holdings on the colonization of Texas in the nineteenth century. The titles, registers, character certificates, and correspondence produced by empresarios like Stephen F. Austin and found in the GLO’s Spanish Collection have long proven a treasure trove for genealogists whose ancestors migrated to Texas from Europe or the U.S.
But the GLO should also be recognized as an essential resource for researchers in the fields of Tejano genealogy and history. After all, the nineteenth-century empresarios’ celebrated accomplishments were themselves built upon an earlier set of colonizing efforts — expeditions and fundaciones (mission and town foundations) carried out by adventurous men and women from northern New Spain who planted the seeds of Tejano culture in Nacogdoches, La Bahía, and Béxar. Descendants of those Spanish-period natives, founders, and settlers can find a wealth of genealogical information in the GLO’s Spanish Collection.
With over 20,000 documents and dozens of rare books and bound manuscripts, the Spanish Collection is a genealogical goldmine waiting for further exploration. María Solís, president of the Tejano Genealogical Society of Austin, agrees. “Genealogy is more than affixing our ancestors’ names on a diagram of a tree. It is seeing their names on documents, it is looking at maps of where they lived and where they traveled. It is about reading the history and having the resources for the research. The GLO archives and website links provide those resources.”
The GLO’s holdings on Tejano genealogy and history are especially rich for south Texas, but they extend throughout the state. Although completed pre-1821 titles for the central and east Texas regions are rare, the GLO boasts dozens of Spanish land grants for the Béxar, Bahía (Goliad), and Nacogdoches areas. The extant records include a fascinating group of Nacogdoches titles that shed light on the formation of an east Texas frontier society, where a mix of Spanish-, French-, and English-speaking settlers coexisted, competed, and caused plenty of headaches for colonial officials.
Mission documents provide another fascinating window into the nascent Tejano society of central Texas in the eighteenth century. The GLO’s holdings include founding documents (for Missions San José, Purísima Concepción, San Francisco de la Espada, and San Juan Capistrano), secularization records that show how mission lands were divided up and allotted to their inhabitants, and correspondence that sheds light on persistent land conflicts between Franciscan missionaries and Tejano ranchers. Descendants of these Texas rancheros and mission residents will find a wealth of information in the archives. Detailed descriptions of this Spanish-language material can be found in Part 2 of the Catalogue of the Spanish Collection.
Land grants issued by the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas between 1825–1836 form the heart of the Spanish Collection, and they are likewise a boon for Tejano genealogists. Mexican colonization laws not only attracted foreigners from the U.S., Ireland, and Germany, but also from Mexico itself. The GLO’s principal finding aids for researching Coahuila y Tejas land grants, Part 1 of the Catalogue of the Spanish Collection, is replete with information on these early Hispanic Texans. In its pages, researchers will find documents ranging from the baptismal certificate of Juan Seguín and the character certificate of Lorenzo de Zavala to the land grant application of doña María Calvillo, a widow rancher who received a large land grant near present-day Floresville.
Of course, the ancestors of today’s Tejano population were not only grantees — they were also crucial players in the saga of colonization. The story of Stephen F. Austin and the other Anglo empresarios would not be complete without an understanding of their Tejano friends, mentors and collaborators such as land commissioner José Antonio Navarro, surveyor José María Carbajal, political chief José Antonio Saucedo, and commissioner José Francisco Madero. Particularly notable is the career of Martín de León, the Tejano pioneer and empresario whose colony was the only majority-Mexican establishment during the period.
De León’s land records, which are found in the GLO, include multiple files that shed light on the founding and colonization of the town of Guadalupe Victoria. Interestingly, the commissioner for de León’s colony, Martín’s son Fernando de León, issued a relatively large number of land grants to single women, including about one sixth of the Victoria town lots. This is a valuable record group for researchers interested in Tejana urban property holding.
At the end of September, genealogists with an interest in Tejano and Hispanic history from all over Texas will descend on Austin for the 38th annual Hispanic Genealogical and Historical Conference, hosted this year by the Tejano Genealogical Society of Austin at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Click here for more information, and to register to attend the conference.
As in past years, the Texas General Land Office will maintain an active presence at the conference. Staff will be on hand to sell maps and catalogues, with proceeds benefitting the Save Texas History program. GLO Spanish Translator & Curator of the Spanish Collection, Dr. Brian Stauffer, will speak on GLO archival resources. We’ll see you there!
 For more on these grants, see Virginia H. Taylor, The Spanish Archives of the General Land Office (Austin: Lone Star Press, 1955), pp. 15–30.
 H. Sophie Burton, “Vagabonds along the Spanish Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1769–1803: ‘Men Who are Evil, Lazy, Gluttonous, Drunken, Libertinous, Dishonest, Mutinous, etc. etc. etc. — And Those are Their Virtues,’” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 113: №4 (April 2010), pp. 438–467.
 For more on Navarro, see David McDonald, José Antonio Navarro: In Search of the American Dream in Nineteenth Century Texas (Denton: Texas State Historical Association, 2010), and for de León, see Ana Carolina Castillo Crimm, De León: A Tejano Family History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003).