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Some clues to answering a key genealogical question

So often, the key issue The Legal Genealogist faces — like any other genealogist — in trying to answer a question is how to distinguish person 1 from person 2.

Montana map and flagAnd so often some or all of the answer can be found if we just knew how old the particular person was.

Thar’s one of the topics I’ll be talking about today as the Montana State Genealogical Society‘s 2016 conference gets underway in Missoula.

And finding the clues in the laws is always my focus.

Let’s look at just one single volume of Montana state laws — the laws passed in early 1891 at the Second Regular Session of the Montana Legislature after it became a state.1 And take a look at the clues we can pull from just this one volume.

First, the Constitution of Montana has some age clues for some folks:

• You had to be at least 21 to serve as a member of the Montana House of Representatioves and at least 24 to serve as a member of the State Senate.2

• You had to be at least 30 to serve as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, or Attorney General, and at least 25 to serve as Secretary of State, State Auditor or State Treasurer.3

• To serve on the State Supreme Court, you had to be 30 or older and admitted to practice law in Montana.4

• To be a Judge of the District Court, you had to be 25 or older and admitted to practice law in Montana.5

• To vote, you had to be a male, 21 or older, a citizen, and resident in the state for a year.6

• Free public schools were open to all children and youths aged 6-21.7

• If you were an able-bodied male between 18 and 45, and not exempted, you served in the militia.8

Then the laws themselves offer some age clues for other folks, among them:

• Poll taxes were due from every male inhabitant over 21 and under 60 “except paupers, insane persons and Indians not taxed.”9

• To serve as a County Auditor, you had to be at least 21.10

• Men and women aged 21 and older could vote in school elections.11

• It was illegal to show or sell pornographic materials to anyone under 16 years of age, or involve them in their display or sale.12

And that was all in just one single volume of laws.

Each provision could provide a critical clue to figuring out which person was the right person: was this one old enough to do what we know some person of that name did? Even if it’s not a birth certificate with a specific date of birth, any clue that can help us narrow down an age range is worth following.


  1. I’d be happy to talk about the laws passed at the first session… but there weren’t any. That first legislature accomplished absolutely nothing because of partisan gridlock. See “Highlights from Legislative History,” About the Legislature, The Montana Legislature ( : accessed 18 Sep 2016). Sound familiar? Sigh…
  2. §3, Article V, Montana Constitution of 1889, in Laws, Resolutions, and Memorials of the State of Montana … 1891 (Helena, Mont. : Journal Publishing Co., 1891), 10; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 22 Sep 2016).
  3. Ibid., §3, Article VII, at 21-22.
  4. Ibid., §10, Article VIII, at 30.
  5. Ibid., §16, Article VIII, at 32.
  6. Ibid., §2, Article IX, at 36.
  7. Ibid., §7, Article XI, at 40.
  8. Ibid., §1, Article XIV, at 47.
  9. Ibid., §163, “An Act Concerning Revenue,” at 122.
  10. Ibid.,§2, “ An Act entitled ‘An Act to Create the Office of County Auditor,’” at 228.
  11. Ibid., §1, “An Act entitled ‘An Act to Amend Section 1880 of the School Laws of Montana in Relation to Publishing Notices and the Qualification of Electors at School Elections,’” at 244.
  12. Ibid., §§1-3, “A Bill for an Act Concerning Obscene Literature,” at 255-256.
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