A Closer Look: The Powers of Attorney Records

The Powers of Attorney Records are an underutilized collection within the General Land Office Archives. They are part of the diverse range of Special Collections that also includes the Court of Claims records, the Austin City Lots and Outlots records, German immigration contracts, and other assorted “oddities,” that are undoubtedly unique, and helped inform the creation of the land grant files that are often referenced at the GLO.[1] The Powers of Attorney Records (1834–1887) consist of agreements authorizing a grantee to give power to another person to represent or act on the grantee’s behalf in designated legal matters. Recently digitized, the Powers of Attorney Records contain over 1,700 files, including many noteworthy documents that make them a resource for professional and amateur historians, genealogists, and those with an interest in legal history.

Of particular note are four files in the Powers of Attorney Records relating to a family with the surname Heller that are distinctive due to their peculiar contents. These files include birth and death records intended to provide proof of heirship to authorize a contract. Notably, the records provided by the Heller family are written in French, and filed in German. The intermingling of French and German text on these documents hints at the cultural and political history of Strasbourg.[2] Over the course of its history, the city had passed between German and French control, and thus, much like Texas, retained pieces of the language of both sovereigns on official records.

The letterhead of the first page states, “Auszug aus den Registern der Sterbe-Urkunden,” which translates to “Abstract of the registers of death certificates.” The contents of the abstract continue in French, documenting various “acte de décès,” or death certificates, of family members. In the left margin of the same page is “Bürgermeisteramt der stadt strassburg,” or “Mayor’s office of the City of Strasbourg.”[3]

Perhaps surprisingly, there is only one Spanish language document in the Powers of Attorney Records, which also happens to be the oldest document in the collection. In the document, Manuel Borrego issued a power of attorney to Manuel Elizondo del Valle to authorize the sale of Borrego’s 11-league grant in the department of Béxar. Del Valle’s power of attorney was transferred to landman Archibald Hotchkiss by Borrego a few days later.[4]

Various individuals like Archibald Hotchkiss held power of attorney in multiple contracts. These men acted as land agents working on behalf of people who did not have the resources to receive their patent or manage their land, or who were perhaps heirs of original grantees living outside of Texas. Other well-known landmen, such as Jacob de Cordova and Swante Swenson, were appointed as legal representatives on hundreds of contracts.[5] Legislators and government officials, including Isaac Parker and Jacob Snively, can also be found among the appointees holding multiple contracts.[6]

Whether studying early Texas attorneys, the history of Texas law, or simply looking for an interesting familial connection to pique your interest, the Powers of Attorney Records are a useful resource for historical and genealogical research.

The digitization of the GLO Archives is an ongoing project that is continuously increasing online access to these vital records for Texas history researchers. The Powers of Attorney Records, totaling over 1,700 files and consisting of nine linear feet in 22 document boxes, became available online in January 2017. To access these records, go to the GLO Land Grant Database, and type Powers of Attorney in the Class field, and then click “Search.”

Conservation efforts at the GLO Archives are bolstered by purchases of document and map reproductions and donations from generous Texas history lovers around the world. If you would like to adopt individual documents, or you represent an organization that would like to adopt and conserve the entire Powers of Attorney collection, please email archives@glo.texas.gov for more information.

[1] Unlike the land grant records, which are “active” records that are used by the GLO for legal matters involving land, the Special Collections are truly archival — the records don’t grow, and there is no potential for growth through official channels in the agency as they don’t involve business related to agency actions.

[2] This power of attorney was signed nearly a decade after Strasbourg suffered heavy bombardment during the Franco-Prussian War, and over sixty years before it again faced aerial bombing raids in World War II. Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. Strasbourg, France. 5 June 2017, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Accessed 24 July 2017, https://www.britannica.com/place/Strasbourg.

[3] Powers of Attorney file for [Marie] Florentine Bootz, et al., May 1879 to April 1880, File #001654, Powers of Attorney Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[4] Powers of Attorney file for Manuel Borrego and Manuel Elizondo del Valle, 10 June 1834, File #001585, Powers of Attorney Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Handbook of Texas Online, “Hotchkiss, Archibald,” accessed July 24, 2017, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fho64. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[5] Handbook of Texas Online, Natalie Ornish, “De Cordova, Jacob Raphael,” accessed July 24, 2017, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fde03. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on May 18, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Handbook of Texas Online, Richard Moore, “Swenson, Swante Magnus,” accessed July 24, 2017, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsw14. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[6] Handbook of Texas Online, Jack K. Selden, Jr., “Parker, Isaac,” accessed July 24, 2017, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa22. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Handbook of Texas Online, H. Bailey Carroll, “Snively, Jacob,” accessed July 24, 2017, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsn07. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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