Select Page

Badger State laws

It has a long and rich history.

Originally part of the original Northwest Territory, between 1788 and 1800, and then part of Indiana Territory from 1800 to 1809, Illinois Territory from 1809 to 1818, Michigan Territory from 1818 to 1836 before becoming its own territory in 1836 and a state in 1848, Wisconsin — known as the Badger State — has been around as a legal entity for a long time.1

The first territorial legislature met at Belmont starting on Tuesday, the 25th of October, 1836,2 and the very first law it passed was to protect itself and its members from contempts and from arrest when going to or returning from meetings of the assembly.3

So there have been almost 183 years of Badger State laws, during both the territorial and statehood periods, as The Legal Genealogist is reviewing in anticipation of this Saturday’s Legal Genealogy workshop at the Wisconsin Historical Society, and so much in those laws of genealogical value.

Just as one example, if you look at the Wisconsin laws of 1855, you’ll find a long list of name changes — the kind of thing that will drive a genealogist batty if you’ve been looking for records of Anna Morley of Madison in Dane County, and don’t know that her name was changed to Emma Carpenter, and she was then known as the adopted daughter and heir of Stephen D. and Mary B. Carpenter.4

In that one volume, name changes included:

• Joseph Kingston Bergestraser to Joseph Kingston Burgster.5

• John Allcock to John All.6

• Mary Key to Mary K. Foote, child and heir-at-law of William H. Foote.7

• Susan E. Haskins to Susan E. Edgerton.8

• George Satterlee to George William Meeker.9

• “Franz Otto Rausman, son of Emelia Louisa Rausmann, (supposed to have been born on the 29th day of February, 1852,)” to Franz Otto Knapp, heir at law of Frederick William Knapp and Sophia Elisabeth Knapp, his wife.10

Now… I could fib and tell you all about the ton of research I had to do to find these.

But the truth is… I didn’t do a thing.

Somebody else did, thank heavens.

Wisconsin laws

My friend and colleague Debbie Mieszala, author of The Advancing Genealogist blog, who’s already put together resource pages for Illinois laws and New York laws, among others, has done it again for early Wisconsin laws.

Her Historic Wisconsin Statutes page pulls together resources for Badger State laws starting with those first territorial statutes in 1836 and coming forward to 1977.

Linking to copies available at one of more of the digitized book services — Google Books, HathiTrust Digital Library and Internet Archive — Debbie’s list includes the session laws (laws passed at and published after each session of the legislature) and codifications (republished laws organized by topic at various times).

So for the early laws of the Badger State — including its territorial period, head over to The Advancing Genealogist… and drop Debbie Mieszala a note of thanks while you’re at it.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Referencing legal Wisconsin,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 14 May 2019).


  1. See “The Creation of Wisconsin Territory,” Turning Points in Wisconsin History, Wisconsin Historical Society ( : accessed 14 May 2019).
  2. Acts … of the Legislative Assembly for the Territory of Wisconsin (Belmont : Legislative Assembly, 1836), title page; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 14 May 2019).
  3. Ibid., 17-18.
  4. Chapter 12, General Acts … of Wisconsin … 1855 (Madison : By Authority, 1855), 14-15; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 14 May 2019).
  5. Ibid., Chapter 2, at 8.
  6. Ibid., Chapter 10, at 13.
  7. Ibid., Chapter 20, at 22.
  8. Ibid., Chapter 24, at 26.
  9. Ibid., Chapter 26, at 27.
  10. Ibid., Chapter 29, at 29-30.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email