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State and federal private laws

In March of 1837, a New Englander named Horace White arrived in what is now Rock County, Wisconsin, and decided to stay.

He was acting, in part, as the agent of the New England Emigrating Company, but in part on his own behalf, and he settled his New Hampshire-born wife and children in the new land not long thereafter, beginning what became the town of Beloit.1 In March of 1843, he received three federal land patents for a total of 560 acres in section 26 of Township 1N, Range 12E.2

PL.webinarA medical doctor, White was elected the county probate judge of Rock County3 but died young — he was only 33 when he died, leaving a widow and four young children.4

And, it’s clear, he didn’t leave a will when he died.

You won’t find that fact in the collection of probate records online at There’s no record of Horace White’s estate there. And you won’t find it in the probate collection at either — the Rock County records haven’t been digitized.

But you can find out who the children were, who their mother was and who she married after their father’s death, who served as their guardian and what likely happened to the land Horace White left in Section 26 by looking at a different source altogether.

The laws of the State of Wisconsin.

On the 26th of March 1855, a law was passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature. It provided, in relevant part, that

Horace White, James A. White, Mary Elizabeth White, and Clarinda W. White, infant heirs at law of Horace White, late of Beloit, deceased, together with Eliza M. Hinman, their mother, and Samuel Hinman, their general guardian, are hereby authorized to cause a plat and survey to be made, executed and recorded, … of all that part of section 36, town one, range twelve east, which was conveyed by United States government patent to said Horace White, deceased, and which is embraced in a survey made for said Horace White, and others, by John Hopkins; and such plat and survey when so made, executed and recorded, shall be as valid as if said infants were all of full age.5

And it went on to authorize the children, with their mother and stepfather-guardian, to sell the land.6

This is what’s called a private law — a law passed for the benefit of one or more individuals rather than a law generally applicable to everybody.

And private laws are terrific genealogical resources.

The Legal Genealogist has written about private laws before7 and this week you can find out more about them.

Because, this Wednesday, March 16, I’m doing a webinar as part of the the 2016 Legacy Family Tree webinar series entitled The Private Laws of the Federal and State Governments.

As always, you need to register in advance if you want to participate in the webinar live (it’s at 2 p.m. EDT, 1 p.m. CDT, noon MDT and 11 a.m. PDT).

And, as always, if you can’t clear your calendar for that block of time, remember that Legacy Family Tree webinars are available, free, for a few days after each webinar, and then available for purchase (individually or as a subscription package) so you can review the information more slowly, in more depth, at your own pace.

  1. William Fiske Brown, Rock County, Wisconsin: A New History (1908), 133-136; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 13 Mar 2016).
  2. See Horace White (Rock County, Wisc.), land patent nos. 6762-6764, 3 March 1843; “Land Patent Search,” digital images, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records ( : accessed 13 Mar 2016).
  3. Court History Of Rock County, Wisconsin: 1836 to 2010,” Beloit Historical Society ( : accessed 13 Mar 2016.
  4. See “Horace White,” Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago (Chicago: Wilson & St. Clair, 1868), 353-354; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 13 Mar 2016).
  5. Chapter 222, “An Act to authorize Horace White and others to make a plat and survey of certain lands in the town of Beloit, and to convey the same,” in Private and Local Laws Passed by the Legislature of Wisconsin… 1855 (Madison, Wisc.: Calkins & Proudfit, Printers, 1855), 293; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 13 Mar 2016).
  6. Ibid.
  7. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Kentucky’s private laws,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Oct 2015 ( : accessed 13 Mar 2016).
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