Researching and Cite-Checking Pre-1900s English and American Law and Legal Commentaries:

I've had to do this for a couple of articles I've written recently, and I thought I'd pass along pointers to some useful databases. They are generally for-pay databases, but my sense is that most universities have subscriptions to them. If you're on a law review editorial board, you might want to make sure that your cite-checkers know about these, since they can save the cite-checkers a good deal of effort. All of the databases are full-text searchable and at the same time provide images of the original pages, so you can be sure that you're not falling victim to a transcription error.

1. Pre-1700 English books (not just on law): Chadwyck-Healey's Early English Books Online (EEBO).

2. 1700s English books (not just on law, plus some from outside England): Gale's Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

3. 1700s and 1800s American books and pamphlets (not just on law), plus newspapers (which sometimes reported otherwise unreported legal decisions, jury charges, and the like): Readex's Archive of Americana.

4. 1800s and early 1900s English and American legal treatises and other law books: Gale's Making of Modern Law (if you have a subscription, it should be available through your library Web site).

5. More 1800s and early 1900s American legal treatises and other law books: HeinOnline's Legal Classics database.

6. Some reports of English and American trials and other legal documents from the 1600s to the early 1900s: Galenet's Making of Modern Law - Trials.

7. English reported court cases from 1220-1865 (whether cited to Eng. Rep. or to the individual reporters): HeinOnline's English Reports database.

8. Some other pre-mid-1600s English cases (for instance, from Star Chamber): John Rushworth, Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, Weighty Matters in Law, Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments 59-60 (London, Robert Boulter 1680), available on Early English Books Online (see 1 above).

9. Some early books: Google Books. [Thanks to commenter cd for reminding me about this item, which I have used in my research but neglected to include in this post at first.]

10. Of course, Westlaw and Lexis, which contain nearly all published American court cases.

11. Your library bookshelves, which likely contain a few volumes with cases that aren't on Westlaw and Lexis (such as the New York City-Hall Record, Wright's Ohio Reports, and the like.

12. Your library's online catalog, which may give you online access to many old sources, either through your own library or other cooperating libraries.

If you have other suggestions, please post them in the comments.

David Newton:

This site does not have the original images of text but it does have a whole host of opinions from UK courts and tribunals. Also, unlike the other things cited here, it is free.
9.18.2008 2:31pm
Many early sources can be found on Google Books. With a few quick searches I was able to find Coke's Institutes, Hale's Pleas of the Crown, Bracton's Notebooks, Blackstone, various works of Maitland, some of the Yearbooks, and much else. Obviously, though, Google Book's main advantage is convenience rather than comprehensiveness.

Another good online source is British History Online. Contains various judicial and government records.
9.18.2008 2:35pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
Law Library Microform Consortium (LLMC)
with extensive microfiche collection
and a growing online version at
LLMC Digital
9.18.2008 2:38pm
Cornellian (mail):
I am totally bookmarking this post.
9.18.2008 3:44pm
I have a MUCH, MUCH better idea. Why not speak with your law librarian? This is what they do for a living. ;)
9.18.2008 4:08pm
Alix Cavanaugh (mail):
The Federal Cases are available online in PDF here:

Also, Hein Online now not only has the English Reports, but the Statutes of the Realm.
9.18.2008 7:14pm
Bill N:
Armistead—There are those of us at schools without law librarians, or anyone familiar with legal research. Just today, I was asked by one of our librarians to put together a presentation on researching legal issues, and I'm not even a lawyer, but a legal historian. Try doing timely peer-reviewable scholarship without anything but Lexis-Nexis Academic. Our faculty's big battle last year was to get JSTOR. I'm not kidding. I have to keep up with this stuff myself so I can try to see if I can get something cost effective to use. Cornellian has it right—I am totally bookmarking this post!
9.18.2008 10:40pm
Bill N:
One other plug for Google Books—they are starting to build a collection of state legislative journals of proceedings. It's a small but growing collection.
9.18.2008 10:44pm
Sean M:
It's like Eugene reached into my e-mail inbox and KNEW I was cite checking an article about originalist views on sovereign immunity for my current cite check.

9.18.2008 11:44pm
Sara S (mail):
My colleague Laura Bedard has compiled a list of legal history databases online at
It's a nice mix of free and subscription databases.
9.19.2008 11:28pm