Playing the game of hide and seek was a fun children’s activity, particularly when there were rules designating boundaries for hiding spots.  For example, children could hide in the house – but not in the basement or attic; in the backyard, but not at the neighbor’s.  Geographical limits were essential or the game could quickly become frustrating as the search went on and on.

Sometimes historical researching feels a little like hide and seek, particularly when investigating primary documents.  Researchers hunt and hunt for a specific group of records – or the one or two missing in a series - in order to complete necessary documentation and understanding of an era.  At best, they ultimately find the material filed at an accessible location; at worst, the search can be likened to the quest for the Holy Grail – elusive and unsatisfying.

LLMC members have greatly assisted in any search for early state records by digitizing the Library of Congress’ Early State Records (ESR) collection.  Documents which were found in numerous libraries can be located and reviewed with a few clicks of your mouse.  A great illustration can be found in the recently added Massachusetts records.  The Colony of Massachusetts Bay was founded in the early 17th century, and many of the books and abstracts of the general laws were scattered in numerous libraries; a researcher would need many frequent flier miles to review all of them. 

However, LLMC has cataloged a good representation of these very early documents.  For example, suppose a researcher is seeking various early general laws or abstracts of New Plymouth and Massachusetts-Bay Colonies.  A 1773 Declaration of the Warrantable Grounds and Proceedings of the First Associates of the Government of New-Plymouth is found in LLMC #23389, and contained the 1636 General Fundamentals, the first published laws from the colony.  Also included was a historical reference to Massasoit Sachem or Ousamequin, leader of the Wampanoag tribe, who “freely” gave additional land near the colony.  This early reference originated at the Massachusetts State Library and the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island. 

However Harvard University Law Library originally held two other books of General Laws of New Plymouth Colonies, from 1672 and 1685 (LLMC #23387-88).  These books, from the collected records of the General Court, provided a good view of the early laws in that colony, including a section that forbade Indians in the jurisdiction to "powwow" or to perform devil or false god worship.

However, those libraries were not the only sources of early Massachusetts records.  The 1641 Abstract (#23390), the 1648 Book of General Lauus [Laws] and Liberties (#23391), the 1672 General Laws and Liberties (#23405)  and the 1675 General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony were originally located at the Pennsylvania Historical Society Library and the Boston Public Library (2 copies of #23390), the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California (#23391), the Boston Athenaeum and Harvard University Law Library (2 copies of #23405), and the Library of Congress (#23416).  Interestingly, while #23390 was relatively similar to other abstracts, the copy found at the Boston Public Library also contained a manuscript addition of interest.  In this communication, the author suggested that this Abstract might have been written by Sir Henry Vane, the Younger, a politician, statesman, and colonial governor.  In addition to this supposition, a poem about Vane, by John Milton was also included.  Without reviewing both copies, a researcher would have missed this gem of speculation.   Likewise, failing to locate the General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony, revised in 1672, at the Library of Congress (LMMC #23416) would cause a researcher to miss an introductory note that referred to this “rare” edition, printed in Cambridge or London in 1675; an earlier 1672 publication was found at #23405 and held at the Boston Athenaeum and Harvard University Law Library.  Another lost opportunity to appreciate these special documents would occur without the assistance of LLMC digital.    

This sample of the different sources and content is only an illustration of the types of research found in the Early State Records.  Numerous other records of early Massachusetts laws, originating from a variety of libraries, can also be found throughout the collection.  As a final example, LLMC #23772, from the Massachusetts State Archives, was a manuscript of the proceedings in Council of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from April 1774 to April 1776.  Interesting, a preliminary 1852 note indicated that these records were extracted from Great Britain's State Paper Office in London and that the regular transmission of Council minutes to England ceased after May 14, 1774.  While the ESR collection doesn’t have all of Great Britain’s records, this notation could assist a researcher in determining the next investigatory step.   Using the ESR collection provides reliable and diverse resources to researchers without leaving their office or home computers!

Early State Records is one of LLMC’s most substantial initiatives, thanks to the patronage of several libraries which are listed *here*.  In Phase One, LLMC is digitizing 1028 reels from the Library of Congress’ microfilm collection, containing the records, treatises, newspaper accounts and other legal or related documents from pre-colonial through early statehood of the 15 Atlantic Coast states as well as Native American tribes.  At the time of this article, LLMC is completing the 110 Massachusetts reels.  Applying advanced digitization post-processing and value-added metadata  to these primary and secondary sources which were held in numerous state, federal and foreign libraries, historical societies, archives and legislatures, LLMC’s LLMC Digital online service will make many rare and little seen documents, such as the broadsides, available to researchers and society as a whole. 

Written by Joyce Savio Herleth, Saint Louis University School of Law