Texas Genealogy & Ancestry
As the second largest state, Texas has a land area of approximately 268,601 square miles. Bordered by New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, it also shares an international border with Mexico. As of 2017, Texas has a population of approximately 28 million people.
Its capital is Austin, with a population of 790,390 as of 2010. Other major cities include Houston (2,099,451 residents), San Antonio (1,327,407 residents) Dallas (1,197,816 residents), Fort Worth (741,206 residents), El Paso (649,121 residents), Arlington (365,438 residents), Corpus Christi (305,215 residents), Plano (259,841 residents), and Laredo (36,091 residents).
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Known also as The Lone Star State, Texas’s name is based on the Caddo word taysha/tayshas, which means “friends” or “allies.”
Originally under Spanish and Mexican rule, Texas was divided into municipalities. Native American tribes resided in the region when the Spanish arrived at Isleta, near modern El Paso, in 1682 – by 1700, Franciscan missions and Spanish military outposts were established at Nacogdoches, Goliad, and San Antonio – the latter of which became the administrative headquarters of the region in 1718.
When the province of Texas was established in 1727, its boundaries were vaguely-defined, at best. Groups of colonists supplemented the state’s population of soldiers and priests, particularly in San Antonio. Between 1731 and 1836, more than 29 political subdivisions were established in the nascent state – many of these would eventually be divided into new counties.
Unfortunately, the records from this early period are not extant.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 ignited an intense boundary dispute between the United States and Spain over the Louisiana-Texas border. Spain claimed land east to the Red River, while the US contended that its territory reached the Sabine River, to the west. A region of neutral ground created in 1806 established a temporary compromise, but because neither country had jurisdiction over this area, it became a haven for outlaws.
Beginning in 1809, Quapaw, Osage, and Oto tribes relocated into the region. During this period, Louisiana Catholics were encouraged to emigrate and settle in Texas, and Spanish officials loosened traditional immigration barriers. The Sabine River was accepted as the western boundary of Louisiana in 1819, though this would not be the end of Texas’s ongoing border disputes.
The very next year, Arkansas Territory’s Miller County was organized with land partially inside the Texas border.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, claiming modern-day Texas amongst their land. Although the Mexican government mandated that it only desired immigrants ascribing to Roman Catholicism, it still permitted American settlers into the state under certain auspices – these people were known as empresarios.
It was the empresario Stephen F. Austin, who inherited a grant from his father, who established one of the first Anglo-American colonies in the region. Today, he is popularly known as the Father of Texas. He brought approximately 300 families to the region by 1825, and continually sought to maintain good relations with the Mexican government.
Austin’s colony soon stimulated many others to follow, and the Mexican government continued to issue contracts for settlement through 1832. For a time, the state’s boundaries remained unified as colonists spread from the coast to the Old San Antonio Road and between the Lavaca and San Jacinto rivers.
Beginning in the 1820s, large groups from Tennessee and Arkansas emigrated to the state, followed soon after by settlers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. This led to a period of rapid growth.
The municipality of Refugio was created in 1825, followed by Austin in 1827, Goliad around 1828, and Nacogdoches and Liberty in 1831. More families would soon follow from South Carolina and Georgia, migrating overland through Alabama and Mississippi to Texas, with others travelling by ship from New Orleans to Galveston and Indianola.
This settlement was not without cost – as more and more Americans made their way to the region, tensions between settlers and the mexican government grew ever greater. This ultimately boiled over in 1835 when, after nearly a decade of political conflict, colonists raised their weapons in armed revolution against the Mexican government.
Known as the Texas Revolution,it lasted from October 2, 1835 to April 21, 1836. The most famous confrontation of the war was the Battle of The Alamo. Ultimately, the revolution ended with victory for the colonists – four days before a decisive victory at San Jacinto, the Republic of Texas was officially founded.
By 1836, Americans residing in the state actively promoted statehood for Texas. To encourage immigration, the Republic of Texas offered colonization contracts beginning in 1841. After boundaries were defined and settled, Texas was accepted into the Union as the 28th state in 1845.
Unfortunately, this led to another war – the Mexican War, fought over and on Texas soil. Still stinging from their defeat in the Texas Revolution, the Mexican government hoped to reclaim a large swathe of territory in the southwest, including California. As before, the United States was victorious.
Though the war against Mexico was won, Texas was not at peace. Conflict with Native Americans continued intermittently through Texas’s early days of statehood. Following the war, the US federal government built a number of fortifications in the area to protect settlers from attacks by native groups.
During the American Civil War, sympathies were divided among Texans over the slavery and states’ rights issues that preceded the hostilities between the North and the South. Over the objections of Governor Samuel Houston, Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, supplying many soldiers to the Confederate army.
Texas was readmitted to the union in 1866.
In the following decades, expansion of cotton and wheat production, livestock, and oil provided the stimulus for significant growth. Many European immigrants settled in the state, including Germans, Czechs, Poles, Swedes, Norwegians, and Irish. During the depression, the Post Cereal Company offered inexpensive land in West Texas for anyone willing to grow grain for the company’s product.
Today, the state has continued to be a destination point for its Mexican neighbors who seek employment in farm and industry, as well as a hub for the music scene thanks to Houston.