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The tidbits in the tables…

More than once, The Legal Genealogist has said it.

To understand the records, we have to understand the law — and not just in general, but the specific law in the specific time and specific place where the record was created.1

And to find that law, more than once, The Legal Genealogist has pointed folks to the Library of Congress’ American Memory Project and, specifically, to its Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation pages for early federal laws.2

The Statutes at Large — those published volumes of laws passed by Congress — are online free at the site for the period from 1789 through to the adoption of the first organized code of laws in 1875.

And even with all the times I’ve pointed to this resource, and specifically to these laws, I’m still stumbling across features in these pages that I hadn’t noticed before.

Case in point.

In volume 1 of the Statutes at Large, published in 1848, you can find all of the statutes from the very first one signed into law on 1 June 17893 through to the March 1799 resolution authorizing a subscription to Folwell’s edition of the Laws of the United States.4

In the pages of these laws are so many stories:

• Establishing and supporting light-houses, beacons, buoys and public piers.5

• Establishing the Courts of the United States.6

• The genealogists’ dream statute: setting the rules for the first census, the census of 1790.7

• Creating the first federal protect for patented inventions.8

• The very first statute that began the march towards prohibiting the slave trade.9

• Admitting Tennessee into the Union as a new state.10

I’ve read through those laws and more… and studied these volumes… and still overlooked something until last night.

There are some really neat tables in the front of particularly this first volume of federal statutes that we can use, too.

Table No. II, appearing at the beginning of Volume 1, on page lxix (69), is headed “The Acts of Congress from 1789 to 1845, Inclusive.”

It begins, on that page, with the acts Relating to the Judiciary — everything from that very first act setting up the very first federal courts called the Judiciary Act of 178911 through to laws setting up federal courts in Iowa and Florida as they were admitted to the Union12 — and every statute is cited to the specific volume and page of the Statutes at Large where it appears.

And though that alone would be worth it to this law geek, I do recognize that others may be more interested in some of the other types of laws passed by the federal government in those early days. And the table offers one-stop shopping for a bunch of them:

• Relating to Imports and Tonnage.13

• Duties on Merchandise.14

• Duties on Tonnage.15

• Drawbacks.16

• Internal Duties.17

• Register of Vessels.18

• Relating to the Public Lands.19

• Survey and Sale of the Public Lands.20

• Relief of the Purchasers of Public Lands.21

• Pre-emption of Public Lands.22

• Lands Given for Colleges, Schools, Seats of Government, Seats of Justice, etc.23

• Lands Granted for Internal Improvements.24

• Virginia Military Lands.25

• Donation Land.26

• Lands for Military Services.27

• Lands Granted to Individuals.28

• Acts for the Adjustment of Private Land Claims.29

• Relating to the Post-Office of the U.S.30

• Post-Office Department.31

• Post Roads.32

The moral of this story, of course…

Read every word.

Sometimes there are goodies hiding in those tables at the beginning or the end of those books.


  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Placing the law,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Oct 2016 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2017).
  2. See e.g. ibid., “Reprise: Federal law primer,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Jul 2014.
  3. “An act to regulate the time and manner of administering certain oaths,” 1 Stat. 23 (1 June 1789).
  4. “Resolution authorizing a subscription to, Folwell’s edition of the Laws of the United States,” 1 Stat. 755 (2 Mar 1799.
  5. “An act for the establishment and support of light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers,” 1 Stat. 53 (7 Aug 1789).
  6. “An act to establish the judicial courts of the United States,” 1 Stat. 73 (24 Sep 1789).
  7. “An act providing for the enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States,” 1 Stat. 101 (1 Mar 1790).
  8. “An act to promote the progress of useful arts ,” 1 Stat. 109 (10 Apr 1790).
  9. “An act to prohibit the carrying on the slave trade from the United States to any foreign place or country,” 1 Stat. 347 (22 Mar 1794).
  10. “An act for the admission of the State of Tennessee into the Union,” 1 Stat. 52 (1 June 1796).
  11. “An act to establish the judicial courts of the United States,” 1 Stat. 73 (24 Sep 1789).
  12. “Acts supplemental to the act for the admission of the States of Iowa and Florida into the Union,” 5 Stat. 789 (3 Mar 1845).
  13. “The Acts of Congress from 1789 to 1845, Inclusive, Relating to Imports and Tonnage,” 1 Stat. lxxxiv.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid. at xc.
  16. Ibid. at xcii.
  17. Ibid. at xciii.
  18. Ibid. at xcvii.
  19. “The Acts of Congress from 1789 to 1845, Inclusive, Relating to the Public Lands,” 1 Stat. xcviii.
  20. Ibid..
  21. Ibid. at ciii.
  22. Ibid. at cv.
  23. Ibid. at cvi.
  24. Ibid. at cviii.
  25. Ibid. at cx.
  26. Ibid. at cxi.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid. at cxiii.
  29. Ibid. at cxiv.
  30. “The Acts of Congress from 1789 to 1845, Inclusive, Relating to the Post-Office of the U.S.,” 1 Stat. cxix.
  31. Ibid. at cxix.
  32. Ibid. at cxx.
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