Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Local Laws in Indiana on line, a sampling

We think of laws as general and impersonal, but legislatures also pass "private" or "local" laws directed to individuals or localities -- sometimes fairly routine, sometimes to redress injustices. These private laws were more common in earlier days and in Indiana are preserved in books published for each session of the General Assembly. Some are on line, some not -- but in either case the titling and cataloging are irregular. Many libraries catalog them as serials. Since the legislature began meeting in December and carried over into the next year, dating can be an issue. GoogleBooks makes its online copies rather hard to find. I have located six years there, 1843-1847 and 1850.

La Porte County, Indiana, is mentioned 30 times in these six books, an average of five items per year. They included:

* a few divorces,

* a few cases of aliens who owned and sold land,

* several incorporations of local institutions and businesses, usually naming the directors,

* some road authorizations with names of commissioners and directions (“on as straight a line as the nature of the ground will admit of”), and

* some routine, or just plain weird. I'm still scratching my head over the county commissioners' being authorized "to make John Johnson, of said county, the same allowance for the arrest of a horse thief, calling himself John Johnson, as they might have made if said horse thief had been convicted of said crime.”

Full details and access instructions if you get stuck are over at Midwest Roots.

In addition to looking for particular people, these books can be used as a kind of on-the-scene history, a bit like the "annuals" that encyclopedias used to publish. Names of businesses and institutions changed over time, and often the hardest part of researching people connected with them is figuring out what they were called at the time. So it may be helpful to know that in 1846 the legislature amended the charter of La Porte University so that its medical school would be known as Indiana Medical College. Those institutions are long gone but they were significant in early Midwest medical education.

Local histories tend to focus on those enterprises and individuals that succeeded and stuck around; the lawmakers didn't know the future, so this is a place to look for a "clay turnpike company," plank roads, and off-brand railroads that may have never run a train. History is often written by the winners; genealogy is written by everybody.

Two useful sets of information from this source in Indiana have been extracted, indexed, and published:

Malinda E. E. Newhard, Name Changes Granted by the Indiana General Assembly Prior to 1852 (Harlan, IN: author, 1981)

Malinda E. E. Newhard, Divorces Granted by the Indiana General Assembly Prior to 1852 (Harlan, IN: author, 1981). Note that in some cases the General Assembly actually granted the divorce, and in others it authorized the filing of a court case locally.

Newhard cited General Laws 1817-1851, Local Laws 1835-1851, and Special Laws 1818, 1824, and 1831.

Plank road scrip illustration from Sellitstore (http://sellitstore.ecrater.com/p/9628689/michigan-city-union-plank-road# : accessed 28 July 2012), where the bill once said to be worth $5 was for sale for $125.

Harold Henderson, "Local Laws in Indiana on line, a sampling," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 July 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

No comments: