Select Page

Regional case resources

It was first published in 1879.

It was the first of its kind, and to folks out on the Great Plains, it was a critically needed resource.

And, today, it can be exceedingly useful not just to lawyers, but to genealogists as well.

It’s the North Western Reporter. A set of law books that was unique at the time because it wasn’t from a single state but, instead, contained select cases from select courts in many states: the Supreme Courts of Iowa; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; North Dakota; Wisconsin; South Dakota; and the Dakota Territory.1

A product of the West Publishing Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, the North Western Reporter is one of seven regional reporters that — with two state reporters, California and New York — make up the National Reporter System.2

These reporters are still published today, many in a second or even third series. The regions they cover:

Atlantic Reporter: CT, DE, D.C., ME, MD, NH, NJ, PA, RI, VT.

North Eastern Reporter: IL, IN, MA, NY, OH.

North Western Reporter: IA, MI, MN, NE, ND, SD, WI.

Pacific Reporter: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NV, NM, OK, OR, UT, WA, WY.

South Eastern Reporter: GA, NC, SC, VA, WV.

Southern Reporter: AL, FL, LA, MS.

South Western Reporter: AR, KY, MO, TN, TX.

And the cases they publish can be goldmines for genealogical research.

Take for example the case that appears in volume 5 of the North Western Reporter, the case called Vanderpoel v. O’Hanlon et al., filed April 6, 1880, by the Iowa Supreme Court.3

It tells the story of a young man named Vanderpoel who wanted to vote in the election of March, 1878. The issue was where his legal residence was.

The opinion is only three pages long, but in just one paragraph we discover that:

in January, 1875, the plaintiff was 19 years of age, and his home or residence was with his father, in Mitchell county, in this state. At that time he was sent by his father to the State University at Iowa City, for the purpose of completing his education, and was still attending said school in March, 1878, when he offered to vote. His father furnished the means required for the plaintiff’s expenses, and for the payment of such fees as were required at the university. His father’s home, in Mitchell county, was the plaintiff’s “headquarters” or residence during vacations, except when he was absent from there on hunting or other excursions. At the time he offered to vote the plaintiff was unmarried and 22 years of age.4

The key issue for the Court to decide was whether the young man could vote in the county where he was going to school or only in Mitchell County, where his permanent residence was. It ruled in favor of Mitchell County only.

But think about the detail we pick up here:

• An age of 19 in 1875.

• Residence in Mitchell County.

• A living father who paid school fees.

• Sent to Iowa City to get an education.

• Still there in 1878.

• Age 22 and unmarried at the time.

Pretty good info for a single paragraph in a three-page opinion, no?

And it sure didn’t come as any surprise to The Legal Genealogist that young F. A. Vanderpoel shows up on the 1885 Iowa State Census, living in Mitchell County, and by then practicing his chosen occupation: lawyer.5

Check out the law books for any state where you have ancestors and see if maybe you have a budding litigator in your midst… or even someone who just played a bit role as a witness or juror in a case that got reported. Find them online at Google Books, Internet Archive and HathiTrust Digital Library… or maybe at the local law library of your choice.

Law books. Not just for lawyers, y’know…


  1. See Wikipedia (, “North Western Reporter,” rev. 20 July 2016.
  2. See “Regional Reporters Map,” ( : accessed 19 Oct 2017).
  3. Vanderpoel v. O’Hanlon et al., 5 N.W. 487 (1880).
  4. Ibid., 5 N.W. 487.
  5. 1885 Iowa State Census, Mitchell County, Mitchell Twp., family 56, p. 276 (stamped), Florence A. Vanderpoel; “Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925,” ( : accessed 19 Oct 2017).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email