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One-stop shopping for Texas statutes

The Legal Genealogist is in the Lone Star State today, getting ready for tomorrow’s kick-off to the 2016 Texas State Genealogical Society conference in Dallas.

txsgs-2016-register-now-web

We’re looking at three solid days of amazing genealogy: more than 70 sessions and more than 35 speakers on topics ranging from DNA testing to using technology to aid research to the special problems of researching ancestors who were enslaved or Hispanic or German or…

Tomorrow — Friday — features morning breakout sessions, afternoon workshops and breakout sessions, and a Texas State Genealogical Society reception in the evening.

Saturday has morning general sessions, afternoon workshops and breakout sessions, and the Texas State Genealogical Society banquet in the evening, featuring John Sellars on The Most Interesting Mann!, or My Treasure Seeker!

Sunday there will be morning general sessions, an afternoon workjshop and afternoon breakout sessions. The whole shebang doesn’t wind down until 4:30 that afteroon.

There will be workshops galore: Cyndi Ingle on Crafting Successful Searches (both Friday and Saturday), Kelvin Meyers on With or Without Land: Using Land Records to Find Your Texas Ancestor (Sunday), and some Legal Genealogist type on No Vitals? No Problem!–Building a Family through Circumstantial Evidence (Friday) and Order in the Court: Hands On with Court Records (Saturday).

In other words… you really want to be here. And you still can: registration opens today at 4 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dallas, where all the sessions will be held, and you can still register as a walk-in for the whole conference — or even for just one day.

And, of course, throughout the conference, I’m going to be focusing on the laws of Texas.

And oh brother does Texas ever have law.

Lots of law.

Or laws.

Plural.

It’s got pre-republic laws of old Mexico. It’s got laws from the Republic of Texas. It’s got early statehood laws and late statehood laws.

It’d be enough to send even this law geek running for the exits.

Except…

Except…

Except for a man named Karl Hans Peter Mareus Neilsen Gammel.

Born in Denmark in 1854, he came to America in 1874, finally settling in Texas around 1877. He and a brother sold trinkets on the streets of Austin, and later Hans bought books for a nickel and sold them for a dime.1

And then came that serendipitous moment. It’s described in the Handbook of Texas Online this way:

He was still a newcomer to Texas when, in 1881, the old Capitol in Austin burned. From the debris scattered on the Capitol grounds, young Gammel gathered wet papers and charred documents, loaded them in a wagon, and took them to his home. He and his wife gradually dried the pages on clotheslines and stored them with their belongings. Years later he sorted and edited the crinkled papers, then published them beginning in 1898 as the famous first ten volumes of Gammel’s Laws of Texas, 1822–1897. This work won immediate acclaim, and with the addition of other volumes in later years the set came to be a basic item in law libraries across the state.2

And all of those volumes of Gammel’s Laws of Texas are readily available online.

The University of North Texas Libraries have this amazing website called The Portal to Texas History — and you can find the complete set — all 33 volumes of Gammel’s laws — all digitized there. And here’s the way the laws are explained there:

H.P.N. Gammel’s The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897 has long been one of the most important primary resources for the study of Texas’ complex history during the Nineteenth Century. His monumental compilation charts Texas from the time of colonization through to statehood and reveals Texas’ legal history during crucial times in its development. The Laws consist of documents not only covering each congressional and legislative session but comprise other documents of significance, including the constitutions, select journals from the constitutional conventions, and early colonization laws. Texas state librarian, C.W. Raines, introduced the 1898 set as “the essential connecting links of our legal and political history . . . Not a heterogeneous mass, but a related whole, this compilation is the ethical expression of the period covered, or more plainly speaking, the prevailing idea of right and wrong as applied to social compact.”

 

Although Gammel’s editions of The Laws of Texas were published over one hundred years ago, they are still one of the main sources for researchers of early Texas law. Renowned Texas bibliographer John H. Jenkins calls the set “the most valuable compilation of early laws of Texas, and still the most useful” (Basic Texas Books 69). At the time this project was begun, The Laws’ had never been reprinted and the set in its entirety had become quite rare and virtually impossible to obtain. Furthermore, the existing sets are now often found in poor condition. They were printed on unstable paper, which is now brittle. When the original bindings are still found on the volumes, they often have boards separating, leather rotting, and pages loose and torn. And, because of the brittle paper, the volumes cannot be easily rebound. Due to these factors, access to the physical volumes is sometimes difficult; therefore, historians, legal professionals, students, and other researchers in the state and elsewhere benefit from the electronic access offered by this project. The complete set, volumes 1 – 33 are available.3

Volumes 1-10 cover the years 1822 to 1897;4 those were the volumes published in 1898 with the documents salvaged from the Capitol fire.

Volume 11 picks up with the laws of 1897-1902;5 volume 12 has the laws of 1903-1905;6 volume 13 the laws of 19077 and so forth.

All digitized.

All word-searchable.

All free.

Online.

It isn’t often that all of a jurisdiction’s early laws are available with a one-stop-shopping site.

But it’s sure true in Texas, thank heavens!

Thanks to the Portal to Texas History…

And thanks to Karl Hans Peter Mareus Neilsen Gammel.


SOURCES

  1. Dorothy Gammel Bohlender, “Gammel, Karl Hans Peter Marius Neilsen (1854–1931),” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online : accessed 26 Oct 2016).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Collection Description, H.P.N. Gammel’s The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 26 Oct 2016).
  4. H.P.N. Gammel’s The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 10 vols. (Austin : Gammell Book Co., 1898), 4:716; digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 26 Oct 2016).
  5. H.P. N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas: Supplement Volume to the Original Ten Volumes, 1822-1897 (Austin : Gammell Book Co., 1902); digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 26 Oct 2016).
  6. H.P. N. Gammel, General Laws of the State of Texas … 1903-1905 (Austin : Gammell Book Co., 1906); digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 5 Mar 2015).
  7. H.P. N. Gammel, General Laws of the State of Texas … 1907 (Austin : Gammell Book Co., 1907); digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 26 Oct 2016).
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