Under Spanish and Mexican rule, Texas was divided into municipalities (municipalities in Spanish). When the Republic of Texas gained independence in 1836, the 23 municipalities became the first counties in Texas. Many of them were very large and were later divided into new counties. As the state expanded over the years and the population increased, so did the number of counties.
The first counties in Texas history were called municipalities and date back to Spanish rule, according to the Texas Association of Counties. There were 23 municipalities in what is now the southeastern part of the state. This map was part of a promotional publication entitled City of Galveston, on Galveston Island, Texas, and is considered to be the first printed map showing counties in the Republic of Texas. At the time of the establishment of the Republic of Texas, the original twenty-three counties consisted of Austin, Bexar, Brazoria, Colorado, Goliad, Gonzales, Harrisburg (now Harris), Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Milam, Mina (now Bastrop), Nacogdoches, Red River, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Patricio, Shelby, Victoria and Washington.
The law prompted the Local Records Division of the Texas State Library to collect and maintain local government records, including city and county records. Much of West Texas and the Panhandle is omitted from this map, a common technique for mapping Texas in the decades before those areas became more populated. For genealogists researching in Texas, there is no effective substitute for searching county court records on site. The land known as the Youth Territory in the Plains of the Panhandle was divided into 54 counties that year, which is why the counties of northwest Texas are square and rectangular.
Texas has counties that no longer exist because they were discontinued, renamed, or merged with another county. Annotations are also made for a Cherokee village in Nacogdoches County, and the Alabama-Coushatta are identified in several counties in southeastern Texas, as well as a handwritten addition from a Caddo village in Houston County. In the early days of the state, Texas became a state in 1845, Texans needed to be close to local governments, which were responsible for courts, jails, schools and highways, said attorney David Brooks, who specializes in Texas county government. Deeds are found through the county clerk, estates in the county clerk's office or the probate clerk's office in larger counties, and court records through the county or district court clerk.
Texas is the second largest state in terms of area and population, but it has 95 more counties than any other state. The Constitution of 1876, which is what much of today's Texas state legislation is based on, established requirements for Texas counties. When Texas sold land to the United States as part of the Compromise of 1850, nine other counties were added.