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Students inventoried Bexar County historical records for history classes, 1977-1978

March 23, 2015

Readers who follow our University Archives Twitter account, @UTSA Yesterday, may have seen a tweet earlier this year that came from a January 1978 press release about UTSA history students completing a 2 year cataloging project at the Bexar County Election Center. Below is more information about this unique endeavor and the impact it has had on Bexar County public records.

Student Ernest Cormina, Dr. Lionel V. Patenaude and student Warren R. Porter examine bound volumes of records in the Bexar County Election Center and Archives building. MS 27 txsau_ms00027_04-18-77-3-13a

Student Ernest Cormina, Dr. Lionel V. Patenaude and student Warren R. Porter examine bound volumes of records in the Bexar County Election Center and Archives building. MS 27: txsau_ms00027_04-18-77-3-13a

The project spanned 4 semesters of Texas history courses, in which undergraduates took part in the inventory as their class assignment. History professors supervising the project included Dr. Félix D. Almaráz, Jr., the project’s director, and Dr. Lionel V. Patenaude. The Bexar County Historical Commission sponsored the project.

At that point in time, there was no reference file for the public records held by Bexar County. The purpose of the project, according to Dr. Almaráz’ comments in this article in the May 1977 issue of UTSA’s Bulletin newsletter, was “to find out what is available in what condition and where.” Students worked 20 hours a week, sorting through shelves and stacks of bound volumes—which included deeds, contracts, cattle brand registrations, court cases and tax records—dating from the early Republic period to the early 20th century. Working carefully in often dusty environments, students noted the condition of the bound volumes, measured them, and recorded the title and information about the volume and its place among related records.

By the end of the project, students had helped inventory over 10,000 volumes of Bexar County records. But benefits went beyond the inventory.  Dr. Almaráz commented to Bulletin staff that he felt this project was important because all history students should be familiar with archives. “Some students go all the way through graduate school and don’t even know what an archive is,” he said. “It’s important to know the material out of which history is written.”

Dr. Patenaude, Dr. Almaraz and Archivist Thelma Gavin review a bound volume in poor condition, student with Ernest Malina, Jr. works in background. MS 27: txsau_ms00027_4-18-77-3-36a

Dr. Patenaude, Dr. Almaráz and Bexar County Archivist Thelma Gavin review a bound volume in poor condition; student Ernest Malina, Jr. works in background. MS 27: txsau_ms00027_4-18-77-3-36a

Inventory sheets were sent to the Texas State Library (now the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, or TSLAC) for inclusion in the state’s registry. Later, selected volumes were microfilmed and the film has been available at the TSLAC for research.

Currently, these historical records are stored in the Bexar County Spanish Archives, an advanced archival facility that opened in 2006 (read this press release for more information). The Spanish Archives are housed in the Bexar County Courthouse. The reading room is open to the public for research Monday – Friday, 1-5 PM, and mornings by special appointment.

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