Let’s say your legislative history has taken you back to the definition of one lousy word. I love usage citations in dictionary definitions, but they’re almost always spelled out with terrible abbreviations. Here’s “common law” from the latest multi-volume OED:

This one isn’t bad, but a Bouvier’s 1st, a Black’s 1st, will talk about little known, often name-based reporter using irritating little codes that haven’t meant anything to anyone for centuries. Here are some resources to help you decipher odd ball citations:

  • Bieber’s: All citations, all the time, Bieber will let you search by abbreviation and then get a full title. You can also look up a title and get an abbreviation, but in the U.S. we tend to prefer…
  • The Bluebook: When I know what jurisdiction I’m dealing with, I like the back tables of the Bluebook that list most reporters and major periodicals for most jurisdictions. Plus, you can get the super-official citation for American brief writing.
  • Materials and Methods of Legal Research by Frederick Hicks: This is not the only publication of it’s kind, but I love it so much that I bought my own, just in case any future place of employ didn’t have it. The main work is nice, but the appendices are invaluable: state by state list of reporters (with years), list of Anglo-American legal periodicals, complete list of English and British law reports… I could go on, but check this out for yourself. Legal research guides from times past are great because they will include resources that have fallen out of favor now, but were popular and heavily cited in the past.
  • Pimsleur’s Checklists of Basic American Legal Publications: Another option for an exhaustive list of things that were once popular (especially state by state) and now aren’t is something like Pimsleur’s. If you have a time period and a jurisdiction, these lists should help you narrow things down. The AALL State Documents Bibliography is kind of similar for states only, but has a definite gov docs focus.
  • Local chapter guides to legislative history: My local, LLSDC, has a guide to federal legislative sources because we’re in DC. But, if you’ve got a New York issue, try LLAGNY, and so forth.
  • If all else fails, just Google the entire citation. It’s amazing how many times that gets you somewhere. Oh, Internet.

I hope one of more of these sources can get you where you need to be, cite wise. There’s no real science here–just keep working at it!

What’s your go-to wonky citation solver?