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A one-stop shop for early Kansas statutes

It’s called the Sunflower State, and the sunflower has been the official state flower since 1903. Its people sometimes call themselves Jayhawkers, with a source ascribed to some blending of a noisy blue jay and a courageous and cautious Sparrow hawk.

At least that’s the story told by Professor Frank W. Blackmar of the University of Kansas in his 1931 Kansas Facts — so says the Kansapedia of the Kansas Historical Society1 — and The Legal Genealogist is not about to take on the Kansas Historical Society on a point of Kansas history.

Yes, this does mean I’m heading out to Kansas — to speak at tomorrow’s annual conference of the Wichita Genealogical Society — and that usually sends me into state laws to brush up on things like how Kansas became a territory on its own under the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854,2 and how its territorial legislature met for the first time in Pawnee in March of 1855.

At which point the brand new legislators ran into a problem: “at Pawnee there was no place of accommodation, and members had to camp out, sleep in their wagons or tents, and cook their own provisions.”3 They voted to change the meeting place to the Shawnee Manual Labor School — and the territorial governor vetoed the bill. Not to be outdone, by an almost unanimous vote, the legislators overrode the veto and in July 1855 met in Shawnee.4

The end result, in that one year, was 986 pages of statutes, ranging from Abstracts of judgments to a fellow named Younger, who incorporated a town company.

And, like any set of early laws, it is chock full of goodies we need to know to properly research our Kansas ancestors. It’s in those pages that we can find out about:

• The establishment of the University of Kansas.5

• The penalties for setting fires to woods, marshes and prairies.6

• The creation of a testimonial privilege so ministers and priests didn’t have to testify about confessions.7

• The way divorce and alimony were to be handled by the courts.8

• What the qualifications were for grand jurors and trial jurors.9

And that’s just in one volume of territorial laws. There were at least seven sessions of the territorial legislature — and then Kansas became a state in 1861.10 Through 1923, there had been more than 40 sessions of the State Legislature, regular and special.11

So… how to begin to find the laws we need for Kansas research?

It’s easy.

Once again, somebody else has done the work for us.

Kansas laws

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

Her Historic Kansas Statutes page pulls together resources for Sunflower State laws starting with those first territorial statutes in 1855 and coming forward to 1923. The list isn’t complete after that, but picks up again with 1996-2010.

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), codifications (republished laws organized by topic at various times), and even an index from 1855-1877 with a section labeled “Personal” with lots of names of people mentioned in the laws.

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

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Sunshine on Sunflower state laws,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 4 Oct 2019).


  1. Kansas Nicknames,” Kansapedia, Kansas Historical Society ( : accessed 3 Oct 2019).
  2. “An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas,” 10 Stat. 277 (30 Mat 1854).
  3. Samuel A. Lowe, compiler, “Preface,” The Statutes of the Territory of Kansas … 1855 (Shawnee M.L. School: John T. Brady, Public Printer, 1855), vii; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 3 Oct 2019).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 931-936.
  6. Ibid., 765-766.
  7. Ibid., at 764.
  8. Ibid. at 310-313.
  9. Ibid., 444-446.
  10. See “Kansas Statehood, January 29, 1861,” Center for Legislative Affairs, National Archives ( : accessed 3 Oct 2019).
  11. See Kansas Laws of Special Session 1923 (Topeka : State Printer, 1923); digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 3 Oct 2019).
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