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An option for the Evergreen State

So… a couple of days ago, The Legal Genealogist told Oregonians about a terrific resource for legal research into the early laws of Oregon and a number of west coast and mountain states.

The State of Oregon Law Library offers fabulous online resources, including free access to a database called Fastcase that’s got both case and statutory law options.

But there’s a hitch.

You have to live in Oregon to be able to use it.1

Now that was just dandy for the folks from, say, the Bend Genealogical Society where I spoke this past Saturday.

But what about the folks from, say, the Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society where I’m going to be speaking on Friday and Saturday?

Fear not.

There are resources for Washingtonians as well.

First off, Washington does also have its own Washington State Law Library. Yes, it’s set up mostly “to serve the legal information needs of the members, staff and employees of Washington’s courts as well as the Attorney General, Legislature, Governor’s Office and commissions, agencies and boards of all branches of state government.”2

But, the website goes on to explain, “In addition, the Law Library is open to the public and welcomes the opportunity to assist you in your legal research, but cannot give legal advice or do anything which might constitute the unauthorized practice of law.”3

The database collections available there are absolutely terrific. The library subscribes to HeinOnline, a comprehensive online legal research resource, and the list of specific databases available includes the Session Laws Library — the session laws of all 50 U.S. states back to inception.

So… what’s the hitch? You have to be there, physically, at the library in Olympia to use this.

Bummer.

Especially if you’re nowhere near Olympia, Washington, or it’s three o’clock in the morning.

But don’t despair. For that early Washington law, there’s still an online option.

Over on the website of the Washington State Legislature, under an obscure office called the Office of the Code Reviser, is a collection of every single volume of session laws passed by the Washington Legislature since 1854.4

For the most part these are PDF files of the printed volumes (some more recent laws are also available in a bill-by-bill, chapter-by-chapter format). But the PDFs are terrific. In the 1854 statutes, for example, you can read everything from the qualifications of voters5 to an act authorizing a special election for the state house of representatives from Pacific County.6

There’s no one-stop-shopping search function — you have to open and/or download each volume, file by file — but because these are PDF files, they’re all word-searchable.

So when you need to know what the law was in Washington — and we all know by know how important it is to know the law at the time and in the place where the record we’re looking at was created, right? — there is a place to find it.

Even for Washingtonians too.


SOURCES

  1. Judy G. Russell, “For Oregonians only,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 24 Apr 2017 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 26 Apr 2017).
  2. About the Washington State Law Library,” Washington State Law Library (http://www.courts.wa.gov/library/ : accessed 26 Apr 2017).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Session Laws,” Office of the Code Reviser, Washington State Legislature (http://leg.wa.gov/ : accessed 26 Apr 2017).
  5. Chapter I, §1, “An Act Relating to Elections and the Mode of Supplying Vacancies,” in Statutes of the Territory of Washington … 1854 (Olympia, Wash. : Geo. B. Goudy, Public Printer, 1855), 63; digital images, “Session Laws,” Office of the Code Reviser, Washington State Legislature (http://leg.wa.gov/ : accessed 26 Apr 2017).
  6. Ibid., “An Act to Authorize a Special Election in Pacific County,” in ibid., at 488.
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