Time Machine Tuesday: Researching Past Colorado Legislators

Our library receives many questions about finding biographical information on state legislators from the past. Many of these questions are geneological (“my great-grandfather served in the Legislature”) but we have also received questions about whether certain legislators are still living; how many legislators belonged to a particular profession; where to find a photo of a deceased former legislator; which party a legislator belonged to; and other similar questions. Luckily, we have a number of resources in our collection that can help answer these questions, and many of these resources are (or soon will be) available online.

Colorado Senators, 1885. Courtesy Denver Public Library.

The first place to go when researching a legislator is Colorado Legislators Past and Present, a database developed by the Colorado Legislative Council. Here you can find a variety of facts about every legislator who’s ever served in Colorado. Information in each record includes (if known/applicable):

  • political party
  • chambers served in (House, Senate)
  • years served
  • occupation
  • district number (for legislators after 1964)
  • county and city of residence
  • other government positions held
  • gender
  • birth date and place
  • death date and place
  • legislative committees served on
  • bill sponsorship

Many records contain supplementary information as well. If a legislator was memorialized at the time of their death, the text of the memorial is provided, as scanned from the House and Senate Journals. Other legislators gave oral histories, and these are included in audio form and/or transcript. If a photo of the legislator can be located, it is also included in the record. For those looking for statistical information rather than information on one specific legislator, the data can be sorted by district, party, chamber, or county. The database also includes a search feature, which you can use if, for example, you wanted to find every legislator with occupation “attorney.”

Besides the database, there are many other helpful resources, as well. If the subject of your research held a leadership position, check out Presidents and Speakers of the Colorado General Assembly: A Biographical Portrait from 1876, also produced by Colorado Legislative Council. Here you can find lengthier biographies on the House and Senate leaders from 1876 to 2011, along with photos.

Hundreds of biographies of important Coloradans prior to 1927 are also available online in volumes 4 and 5 of the Colorado Historical Society’s History of Colorado. Many of these biographies include photos.

Finally, you can view the official directories of state legislators back to 1972 via our library. These directories include not only names, parties, and Capitol contact information, but also in many cases home addresses, occupations, spouses’ names, committee information, and even seating charts for the House and Senate Chambers.

A few legislators, such as Helen Ring Robinson, Richard Castro, and William Hamill, have even had stand-alone biographies written about them, which you can check out from our library. Other information can be found in reports of committees and state agencies; for these and other resources search our library’s online catalog.