When sorting through early county records, you never know what you might find. Certain types of documents give you pause, especially those that just look “old” – they are worn, fragile, with handwritten script in fading ink. The date is one of the first things you check – and when that date actually predates your county’s existence, you give it an even closer look. Recently, the processing of early Travis County District Court cases from the mid to late nineteenth century brought to light a document dated 1838, two years before Travis County was even formed. Closer inspection revealed it to be a Headright Certificate from Jasper County, which was established in 1836. As with any land-related documents with questionable provenance, we contacted the Texas General Land Office to see what insight they might have. Upon checking their files, the Land Office archivists discovered that this particular document had been checked out from them in 1881 by an individual named T.E. Sneed.
This Mr. Sneed was likely Mr. Thomas Eskridge Sneed, lawyer, former Mayor of Austin (1856) and former Travis County District Attorney (1860-1862). It is probable that Mr. Sneed was using the certificate in a District Court case, although which case we are not quite sure. At that time, the Travis County Courthouse was located quite near to the Land Office, and although the Land Office typically did not check out original documents, Mr. Sneed was apparently allowed an exception. For whatever reason, the document was not returned to the General Land Office – until 132 years later.