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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in November 2013. It is an excerpt from their course US Court Records  by C. Ann Staley, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Collections of Official State Code

Periodically a compilation (summary) of state laws will be published. As researchers, we want to use these volumes to assist us in determining the laws for specific time frames and locations.

By way of example—suppose that we wish to learn more about dower rights about 1803 in New Hampshire. The state of New Hampshire authorized the publication of a volume titled, Constitution and Laws of the State of New Hampshire; together with the Constitution of the United States.[1] Looking in the index we will find a multitude of entries for Dower—we may wish to review each entry or choose from the list.

  • Dower, regulations concerning 
  • Dower, of what lands the widow dowable
  • Dower, how widow to be endowed in lands where the husband lost or parted his title
  • Dower, widow may sue for
  • Dower, form of writ of... writ of seizin of dower
  • Dower, service of writ of
  • Dower, damages in
  • Dower, how to be set off 
  • Dower, how to be set off, when no division can be made by metes and bounds
  • Dower, tenant in, not to commit waste
  • Dower, not barred by deed of husband alone
  • Dower, not barred by will if waived
  • Dower, reversion of, when to be distributed or fold

State laws may limit the period in which a widow may apply for her dower rights. For example, in Georgia in 1882, a widow who failed to apply for her dower within seven years following the death her husband would forfeit her dower rights.[2]

In order to interpret documents correctly, we must depend upon and study laws. We tend to generalize a bit more than we should, e.g. women had no individual rights until 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed by Congress. It is true that frequently all property, real and personal, that a woman brought to her marriage fell under the control and the responsibility of her husband. But, do we know when our geographic region began protecting the rights of women? We will find that answer in the session laws. For example in 1866 Georgia passed a law which stated that the property of the wife was not liable for the husband’s debts.[3]

1. Section I. Be it enacted, etc., That from and after the passage of this act all the property of the wife at the time of her marriage, whether real, personal or choses in action, shall be and remain the separate property of the wife, and that all property give to, inherited or acquired by the wife during coverture shall vest in and belong to the wife, and shall not be liable for the payment of any debt, default, or contract of the husband.

Sec. II. Repeals conflicting laws.

Approved 13th December, 1866.

As researchers, we frequently need to understand the legal ramifications of titles to property. In 1848, Hotchkiss, in his Codification of the Statute Law of Georgia,[4] indicates that over 90 acts and resolutions apply as related to marriage, personal contracts, and leases and rents.

The following illustrates the variety of articles and sections. All of the articles relating to titles of property and marriage may be found at the - Statute Law of Georgia website.

Titles of Property and Marriage [1848, Georgia][5]

Titles of Property4C.jpg

Titles of Property and Marriage [1848, Georgia][6] - Continued

Titles of Property cont4C.jpg

Hotchkiss’ Codification of the Statute Law of Georgia (1848) provides a Table of Descents (as it relates to Georgia Law).

Table of Descents [1848, Georgia][7]

Table of Decents4C.jpg

Suppose we wish to learn more about the activities and regulations of New Hampshire proprietors in 1804—the Constitution and Laws of the State of New Hampshire contains a chapter, “Proprietor’s meetings—Power of Taxing”.[8]

We don’t want to overlook the published laws as a source to learn more about diseases in the state. Generally the state legislature will pass laws relating to health issues. On 3 February 1789, the New Hampshire legislature passed an act:[9]

An ACT to prevent the spreading of the small-pox, for allowing hospitals to be erected under certain restrictions, and to repeal an act, entitled, “An act providing in case of sickness”. Also an act, entitled, “An act to prevent the spreading of the small-pox in this State”.

Whereas the salutary purpose of the laws providing in cases of sickness, and for preventing the spreading of the small-pox in this State, are not sufficiently answered thereby: ...”

Research Note: To determine if some of the early state law books are available on microfilm (for sale, for rent, or for interlibrary loan), contact the state archives or search the Family History Library Catalog.


  1. Constitution and Laws of the State of New Hampshire; together with the Constitution of the United States (Dover, NH: printed for the state by Samuel Bragg, Jr., 1805). Hereinafter cited as Laws of New Hampshire, 1805. (Also available online through Google Books.)
  2. R. H. Clark, T. R. R. Cobb, and D. Irwin, The code of the State of Georgia (Atlanta: Jas. P. Harrison and Co., Printers and Publishers, 1882), 406.
  3. Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, Passed in Milledgeville, at an Annual Session, in November and December, 1866 (Macon, Georgia: J. W. Burke and Co., State Printers and Binders, 1867), 146-147.
  4. William A. Hotchkiss, A Codification of the Statute Law of Georgia, including the English Statutes of Force: in Four Parts. To which in Prefixed, a Collection of State Papers, of English, American and State Origin; together with an Appendix, and Index (Savannah, GA: J.M. Cooper, printer, 1848). Hereinafter cited as Hotchkiss, Ga. Laws, 1848.
  5. Hotchkiss, Ga. Laws, 1848, 428.
  6. Hotchkiss, Ga. Laws, 1848, 428.
  7. Hotchkiss, Ga. Laws, 1848.
  8. Laws of New Hampshire, 1805, 188-191
  9. Laws of New Hampshire, 1805, 517.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US Court Records

offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.