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Private laws in Indiana

Everything Robert Leffler voted for in the 1843 term as school commissioner of Harrison County, Indiana, was technically illegal.

Oh, it’s not that he hadn’t been re-elected as a school commissioner on the first Monday of August 1843. But he’d neglected to give the required security bond and take the oath of office the way the law required.

So the Indiana Legislature in its 31st session had to pass a special law: “An Act to legalize the acts of Robert Leffler, as school commissioner of Harrison County.”1

private law

That’s just one of the stories to be found in the private laws of Indiana passed during one session of the Legislature that began in December 1846.

You can also read about the creation of the city of Jeffersonville in Clark County in January of 1847 — basically upgrading the town to a city and adding a bit more land to its territory.2

If that’s not genealogical enough for you, you can see how the Legislature had to admit it goofed when, in January 1844, it passed An Act for the relief of Ann Faukbower. Two years later, it passed another act and declared: “That the name of Faukbower, wherever it occurs in the act to which this is an amendment, be and the same is hereby declared to be a misprint, and that said name, whenever it occurs in said act, shall be understood and is hereby declared to mean Ann Faukboner.”3

Or you can also find out about the property in Orange County, Indiana, that Francis Wood left in his will to Sarah Ann Parrott, daughter of Susannah Parrott. If Sarah died without issue, the land was to be sold and the proceeds divided among Peter, John and Margaret Ragle and Susannah, Catherine, Mary and Barbara Ann Parrott. Margaret Ragle died, leaving Peter and John Ragle and the four Parrotts as her heirs at law. In 1846, a quit claim deed was executed for the land in favor of Wiley M. and Sarah Ann (Parrott) Edmondson by Peter and John Ragle, Hiram A. and Susannah (Parrott) Sheppard, Jacob and Catharine (Parrott) Sovereigns, Isaac T. and Mary (Parrott) Dougherty, and William and Barbara Ann (Parrott) McBride.

And why did that seemingly ordinary family land deal end up in front of the Legislature? Francis Wood wasn’t a citizen when he died, and — like many early jurisdictions — Indiana restricted land ownership and transfer by aliens. To validate the deal, a private law — “An Act for the relief of Wiley M. Edmondson and Sarah Ann Edmondson, his wife, late Sarah Ann Parrott” — was passed providing that the land was vested in the Edmondsons “as fully and effectually as if the said Francis Wood had been fully capable to convey or devise the same…”4

These and so many others are private laws — laws passed to address some individual or family concern, rather than to address some broad issue of general application, like taxation or roads or voting eligibility.5 A common title for such a law is “An act for the relief of” the person or persons the law was intended to benefit, and they are chock full of genealogical information.

We’ll be talking about these private laws Saturday at the all-day seminar of the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana and Allen County Public Library, to be held at the Genealogy Center of the library. And about copyright, and using court records, and resolving conflicts in genealogical evidence, and…6

C’mon out and join us… and learn about the adoption of Eliza Ann Camden by Hugh and Eliza Jane Sidwell,7 or the way the town of Canton in Tipton County changed its name to Tipton in 1847,8 or how the Legislature legalized the marriage of Mary Howell. She’d been married to Jonathan Repp, who abandoned her. Nearly seven years later, she thought Repp was dead and married William Howell, who died two years later. And, the Legislature found: “Because there is no evidence to believe Jonathan Repp is still living, Mary’s marriage to William Howell is now legalized.”9

Private laws are such fun…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “To legalize the acts of Robert Leffler,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 24 Oct 2019).


  1. “An Act to legalize the acts of Robert Leffler, as school commissioner of Harrison County,” approved 23 Jan 1847, Chapter XLI in Local Laws of the State of Indiana, … Thirty-First Session (Indianapolis : J.P. Chapman, State Printer, 1847), 94; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 24 Oct 2019).
  2. Ibid., “An Act to incorporate the city of Jeffersonville,” Chapter LXXVII, at 160-184.
  3. Ibid., “An Act to amend an act entitled ‘An Act for the relief of Ann Faukbower,’ approved January 15, 1844,” Chapter LXXXII, at 187.
  4. Ibid., “An Act for the relief of Wiley M. Edmondson and Sarah Ann Edmondson, his wife, late Sarah Ann Parrott,” Chapter LXVIII, at 143-144.
  5. See “About Public and Private Laws,”, U.S. Government Publishing Office ( : accessed 24 Oct 2019).
  6. See registration form, Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana ( : accessed 21 Oct 2019), and event announcement, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center ( : accessed 21 Oct 2019).
  7. “An Act to change the name of Eliza Ann Camden to Eliza Ann Sidwell,” approved 22 Jan 1847, Chapter XC in Local Laws of the State of Indiana, … Thirty-First Session, at 191
  8. Ibid., “An Act to change the name of the town of Canton, in Tipton county,” approved 26 Jan 1847, Chapter CII, at 211.
  9. Ibid., “An Act to legalize the marriage of William Howell and Mary Howell,” approved 21 Jan 1847, Chapter CCXI, at 287.
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