The Texas County Records Inventory Project began in the fall of 1973, when North Texas State University received a grant under Title I of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to conduct a statewide survey of county records. The project was undertaken for several reasons: to provide information on existing local records for the Regional Historical Resource Depository program of the Texas State Library; to locate and preserve valuable historical research material; and to provide a database for a record-management manual for county officials. The task was a formidable one, given the fact that Texas has 254 counties. The nature, quantity, and type of records in the courthouses varied widely, and the volume of records was immense. While larger counties filled warehouses with records, smaller counties filled basements, attics, barns, and sometimes sheds or abandoned gasoline stations. Papers and volumes often lay neglected, slowly being destroyed by water, vermin, or decay. The County Records Project organized a network of volunteers from colleges and universities across the state, including historians, political scientists, and archivists, who used the inventory as field experience for their students. In addition to the academic volunteers, members of historical commissions and societies also prepared inventories in a number of counties. Often volunteer groups worked with county officials to move records in danger of being destroyed. Each county was essentially a separate project and operated out of the county courthouse. Using standard inventory forms, participants recorded such information as titles and variant titles, dates of record series, office having legal custody, forms of records, and a summary and description of contents. All records were documented and inventoried. As each office and storage area was completed, the forms were sent from the local courthouse to the project office for editing. After a recheck, the entire set of forms was edited and prepared for publication by TCRIP staff. Inventories were published by the Texas State Library.
The historical precedent for the Texas County Records Inventory Project was the Work Projects Administration Historical Records Survey, a program designed to inventory county courthouse records. In Texas the program began in 1936 and published twenty-four inventories before World War II brought the surveys to a halt. Though the similarities between the two projects were obvious, the TCRIP decided to focus primarily on the records themselves, omitting the detailed and lengthy histories of the county and of each office of county government compiled by the WPA. With the data supplied by the inventory project, the Texas State Archives prepared a record-management manual for county officials, which provided uniform guidelines for retention and disposal of documents. Records no longer germane to the business of the county but deemed historically valuable could be transferred (with appropriate permissions) to regional depositories, thereby saving costly storage space for county government. Many counties took advantage of these programs. In its early years the TCRIP was funded primarily by grants. In 1975 the project established an executive board of leading citizens to help raise money, and the board helped the project secure line-item funding from the Texas Legislature for two sessions, 1977 to 1981. A need to cut state funds was cited as the reason for omitting the project from the State Library budget in 1981, and thus TCRIP was brought to a close.
Mary Pearson served as director of the project from its inception until August 1980. Randolph B. Campbell of the University of North Texas was named faculty coordinator, and James E. Riney served as director of operations for the final year. Nearly 100 county inventories were completed at the termination of the project; hundreds of volunteers had put thousands of hours into the work. The project became a model for other states, and materials developed by the staff, including a film, slide presentation, and handbook, were requested nationally and internationally. The Texas County Records Inventory Project received an Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History in 1977.