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Michigan’s historic laws

In case you hadn’t noticed, The Legal Genealogist looooooooves HathiTrust.

Michigan.lawsIt’s “a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future” and “(t)he HathiTrust Digital Library brings together the immense collections of partner institutions in digital form, preserving them securely to be accessed and used today, and in future generations.”1

And whenever I’m getting ready for a trip to a new place — the way I’m getting ready for the 10th Annual Family History Festival at the Detroit Public Library this Saturday — I love taking a look at the historic laws of the jurisdiction, to get a feel for what was happening locally.

It’s an absolute mantra with me: to understand the records, we must understand the law that was in effect at the time when and in the place where the records were created.

So… where do we find those historic laws?

Given the above, it won’t come as any surprise that HathiTrust is always among the very first places to look for collections of historic laws no matter what the jurisdiction is.

It rarely disappoints, and in the case of Michigan’s statutes, only one volume of one unofficial collection couldn’t be found on HathiTrust — and that volume was on Google Books.

Here’s a guide to where you can look for Michigan’s compiled codes — the overall collections created from time to time and usually organized by topic (as opposed to the session laws, enacted year after year and organized chronologically):

Pre-Statehood: Laws of the Territory of Michigan.
Hathitrust, reprint, Volumes 1-4

1838: The Revised Statutes of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust

1846: The Revised Statutes of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust

1857: The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-2

1871: The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-2

1882: Andrew Howell, The General Statutes of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-3

1897: The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-3

1913-14: Andrew Howell, Howell’s Annotated Statutes of the State of Michigan.
Google Books, Volume 1
Hathitrust, Volumes 2-6

1915: The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-4

1929: The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-4

1948: The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan.
Hathitrust, Volumes 1-5

There are other reference works you can use as well: those session laws, for example, from statehood well into the 20th century can be found by using the Advanced full-text search option at HathiTrust, entering “Acts legislature Michigan” (without the quotes) in the second box that will search the Title field, and you can narrow it a bit by adding 1838 to the year of publication field. If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the 3,950 items returned (3,023 in full view), click on the Session laws Michigan option at the left to get it down to 306 choices (249 in full view).

And don’t forget the Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Michigan (published starting in 1835) and the Journal of the Senate of the State of Michigan (published starting in 1837). (Wait ’til you search for those — with the accompanying documents, you’ll only have a little more than 300,000 choices…)

And, by the way, for those who have to have the smell and feel of real paper, many of these are available at the Detroit Public Library, some — the oldest books — in the Burton Historical Collection Reference section.2

Michigan law. Because to understand the records, we must understand the law that was in effect at the time when and in the place where the records were created.


SOURCES

  1. About › Welcome to the Shared Digital Future,” HathiTrust (https://www.hathitrust.org/ : accessed 22 Sep 2015).
  2. Entering any of the collection or volume names into the title field of the Advanced Search catalog page of the Detroit Public Library website will get you where you need to go.
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