All Harris County marriage licenses issued since 2008 were already available online; The 1.2 million-plus licenses that were added to the county’s clerk’s website represent all of the licenses issued from 1944 through 2007, a project that closed “a gap of about 64 years” in the county’s digital marriage records. Plain and certified copies of all of those marriage licenses can now be bought with just a few clicks through the office’s online sales portal.
“We maintain records, but we’ve got to come out of the old ways of maintaining these records so that the preservation of and the quality of these documents are good and that they’re presentable,” said Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth in an interview with the Houston Press. “Our community and the people that need to get ahold of these records — from the user side, from our office, to the customer — we have to get to a point where we are digitizing.”
While Hudspeth said “COVID kind of helped push us along” to move toward digitizing records from the clerk’s office such as property deeds, marriage licenses and birth or death certificates, she said the county clerk’s office has had digitizing old records at the top of its to-do list for years now.
The push to get more county marriage licenses easily accessible on the web “actually started in 2018,” Hudspeth said, which is when the county began the contracting process to find an external company it trusted to help digitize those records. The project began under former County Clerk Stan Stanart, and kept plugging along over the past three years under the guidance of three more county clerks (Diane Trautman. Chris Hollins, and now Hudspeth).
After a year-long process to find the right company to assist with the effort, the clerk’s office staff began working with outside firm US Imaging on digitally converting marriage records stored on film and performing any necessary image enhancements. Once that began, it took over two years for the records to be scanned, double-checked and then finally published to the county clerk’s website.
Hudspeth was elected county clerk in 2020, which finally positioned her atop the office she’d been working in as a staff member for over 15 years. She said the office’s records digitization effort has definitely been assisted by Harris County’s decision last year to siphon off the county clerk’s election running duties to the newly minted elections administration office. While Hudspeth said the old county clerk’s office did have a dedicated team focused on elections, it was common for even non-elections staff to be roped in to assist with election season duties.
“Because elections was such a big piece of this [office], oftentimes in the middle of an election, all hands had to be on deck. But now what it has done is allowed us more time to kind of speed the process up on these projects,” Hudspeth said.
Hudspeth told the Press her office’s next major endeavor will be digitizing birth and death certificates, a process that will likely take years to complete. Currently, residents can’t order copies of either type of document online and have to request them in-person or through the mail. Hudspeth said an online system for purchasing copies of both death and birth certificates is also in the works.
“Because elections was such a big piece of this [office], oftentimes in the middle of an election, all hands had to be on deck. But now what it has done is allowed us more time to kind of speed the process up on these projects." - Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth
Another sign of government bureaucracy catching up to the digital age, Hudspeth highlighted that the Texas Legislature recently passed legislation that will allow county clerks’ offices across the state to issue marriage licenses virtually starting in January 2022.
“Just wait. We’ll be able to give a marriage license and do the proceedings over Zoom,” Hudspeth said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”