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A new state’s new laws

New Mexico.

The Land of Enchantment.

nm-flagA place of great mountains and red rock canyons and sweeping deserts and deep red sunsets.

A place that became part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. That first hammered out and approved a Constitution for statehood in 1850.1

And yet a place that only became the 47th state to be admitted to the Union, on the 6th of January 1912.2

Not an easy path to statehood at all.

There’s a great piece in the online Albuquerque Journal that tells the story: “New Mexico’s path to statehood often faltered.”3 For anybody interested in New Mexico history, it’s a great read.

For The Legal Genealogist‘s purposes, however, the key result of the many political skirmishes that led to the long delay of statehood for New Mexico is this bit of legal history: the first actual codified version of New Mexico state laws wasn’t published until well into the 20th century.

During the second session of the New Mexico State Legislature, the laws of this new state were formally codified — organized by topic — and then published by the authority of the State. It was, the editors explained, a little different than what was originally planned:

The present volume was commenced as a compilation of the laws, including all statutes that had not been explicitly repealed or as to the implied repeal of which a doubt existed. It was substantially complete in that form when the 1915 Legislature convened. Owing to the plan of the work it necessarily included many repugnant and some obsolete sections. The suggestion was then made that it be changed into a codification of existing statute law, and that it should receive legislative sanction, the plan being that conflicting sections should be harmonized but that no change in the law should be made. The short time then remaining before the adjournment of the legislature made haste essential, and the change from a compilation to a codification was made under the greatest pressure. The completed work was adopted by the Legislature, and is contained in the present volume.4

It was not, the editors carefully noted, the first time the laws had been collected and compiled in New Mexico. The Territorial Legislature had ordered the laws compiled in 1854, and the completed work was published in 1856. Another compilation was done in 1865 and yet another in 1880 and yet another in 1897.5

But the key word in the description of all those compilations is this: territorial. All were enacted before New Mexico became a state. The 1915 codification was the first set of state laws.

So what kind of things do we find in those first state laws?

The usual in many respects. There were laws governing marriage6 and divorce.7 The ordinary wide variety of laws imposing taxes to pay for things.8 Laws setting up schools and school districts.9

But there were also laws unique to the new state:

• Laws about licensed Indian traders and other issues involving the Native American population.10

• Laws governing community property — a form of property right governance between husband and wife that arose from the civil law of Spain and not the English common law.11

• So many laws relating to water and water rights — that most precious of commodities in dry western states.12

And, perhaps the most important laws to a genealogist, the laws requiring records.

There were, of course, laws on vital statistics. Laws that required certificates and registers of births and deaths.13 Laws that required marriage records.14

There were laws requiring publication of tax lists and other official publications.15 Laws that required any land deal to be signed — “subscribed by the person transferring his title or interest in said real estate.”16 And an entire chapter on records and court records and custody of record books and…17

Sometimes as citizens we get annoyed when there are too many laws.

But as genealogists we can all be oh so grateful for laws like these, in early New Mexico.


  1. Leslie Linthicum, “New Mexico’s path to statehood often faltered,” Albuquerque Journal, posted 23 Oct 2013 ( : accessed 23 Oct 2016).
  2. Stephen B. Davis and Merritt C. Mechem, editors, New Mexico Statutes Annotated, 2 vols. (Denver, Colo. : W. H. Courtright Publ. Co., 1915), preface at I: 4; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 Oct 2016).
  3. Ibid., at I: 3.
  4. Ibid., §§3425-3444, at I: 996-1000.
  5. Ibid., §§2773-2783, at I: 811-814.
  6. Ibid., §§5427-5512, II: 1542-1563.
  7. Ibid., §§4807-5004, II: 1391-1438.
  8. Ibid., §§2784-2792, at I: 815-816.
  9. E.g. ibid., §§1840-1841, at I: 581.
  10. Ibid., §§5654-5818, II: 1598-1645.
  11. Ibid., §§499-504, I: 253-254.
  12. Ibid., §§3435-3438, I: 998-999.
  13. Ibid., §§4644-4652, II: 1345-1346.
  14. Ibid., §4760, II: 1379.
  15. Ibid., Chapter XCVII, II: 1384.
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