May 27, 2010
Essential to any successful attempt to perform a “reasonably exhaustive search” for all relevant records relating to your research problem is knowing exactly what records may have been created during any given time period in a given county or state. One way to do this is to investigate the laws of the time. In the state of Maryland, the researcher has quite a few resources to attain this goal.
If the researcher has the opportunity to visit, just across the street from the Maryland State Archives, in Annapolis, is the Maryland State Law Library (361 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis). The Law Library is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm, Tuesday and Thursday from 8:00am to 9:00pm, and Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.
The Library’s collections contain the Maryland Annotated Code and Maryland Rules, including superseded volumes of both; the Code of Maryland Regulations; Maryland Register; Maryland Reports and Maryland Appellate Reports; and microfilm of unreported appellate opinion; among other sources of more recent Maryland laws. The Library also holds Maryland Task Force Reports and Maryland State Publications.
The Library’s website also holds resources useful to the researcher, including how-to guides on various aspects of researching Maryland law, a searchable library catalog, and several databases that are only available from Library computers.
Those desiring to research the laws from Maryland’s more distant past, however, will find another website much more useful, especially if one is unable to visit Annapolis: the Archives of Maryland Online. Originally a print publication, The Archives of Maryland series began in 1882, created by an Act of the General Assembly. The first volume appeared in 1883 and subsequent volumes were published every year or two until 1972, when the original series ended with Volume 72. A new series of volumes began publication in 1990, and in 1999, an initiative began to digitize these original volumes, as well as publish new electronic volumes. There are currently over eight hundred individual volumes in the Archives of Maryland Online series.
The volumes of the Archives of Maryland cover many different subjects, including records of the courts and legislature, militia rolls, and land and probate records, from the early colonial period through the present, with the strongest representation prior to the twentieth century. The entire series is extremely useful to the genealogical researcher, as most of the volumes are searchable transcribed records with citations to the original records. Some of the more recent volumes consist of actual digital images of the original records themselves.
For those researching laws, there are three particularly useful sections: Codes, Compilations of Laws, Rules and Regulations; Legislative Records; and Session Laws. Each of these three sections presents links to those volumes containing transcribed laws or proceedings of the legislature, most of which are indexed by subject. The one difficulty comes when—as sometimes happens—multiple volumes containing multiple indexes were published in a single volume. However, with persistent research, as any serious genealogist must display, the exact laws affecting our ancestors can be found.