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Locating Congressional Documents: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialists.

Congressional documents concern a wide variety of subjects and include all papers ordered printed by the House or Senate apart from congressional committee reports. As described by the Government Publishing Office (GPO), congressional documents “may include reports of executive departments and independent organizations, reports of special investigations made for Congress, and annual reports of non-governmental organizations.”  Researchers also frequently ask us for assistance in finding Senate treaty documents, which contain the “the text of a Treaty as it is submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States.”  House and Senate document citations include the number of the Congress and the number of the document. For example, S.Doc. 114-15 indicates the fifteenth document from the 114th Congress. Similarly, an example of a Senate treaty document is Treaty Doc. 114-1.

Potomac Aqueduct, Georgetown abutment at Georgetown waterfront, Washington, District of Columbia. Drawing by Historic American Buildings Survey House Document 459 (1838). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc0967/photos.025248p

Potomac Aqueduct, Georgetown abutment at Georgetown waterfront, Washington, District of Columbia. Drawing by Historic American Buildings Survey House Document 459 (1838). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc0967/photos.025248p

Congress.gov - Congress.gov provides free access to full-text Senate treaty documents dating back to 1995. If you know the citation, you can search for it. If you do not have a citation, Congress.gov’s facets make it easy to browse for a treaty document. Facets available include Congress, status of a treaty document, and treaty topic. You can use the facets in combination with one another to quickly narrow down your results.

ProQuest CongressionalProQuest Congressional is a subscription database available at many law firms and law schools that  includes congressional documents dating back to 1817. To search for congressional documents, you can perform a basic search and limit your search to House and Senate document under document type. If you have a citation, click on “legislative and executive publications” at the top, then choose “search by number,” and “bibliographic citations.” Next, under publication number, use the drop-down to choose a House or Senate document or Treaty Document under “type,” select the Congress, and type in the publication number. If you scroll down, you can also look for congressional documents by inputting a U.S. Serial Set volume number.

ProQuest Legislative Insight – The ProQuest Legislative Insight subscription database is also available at many law schools and law firms, and allows you to type a citation to a public law, U.S. Statutes at Large citation, or enacted bill number, and retrieve a compiled legislative history that may include House and Senate documents.

FDSys – The Government Publishing Office site, FDSys, contains select congressional documents dating back to the 94th Congress (1975-1976).

U.S. Congressional Serial Set – The U.S. Congressional Serial Set includes a variety of information, including congressional documents. A citation to the U.S. Serial Set takes the form of a volume number. From there, you will then look for the relevant document number.  The U.S. Serial Set has a variety of access points, including subject, keyword, name, reported bill number indexes, and a sequential list of titles and reference information for documents for each session of Congress. To access the U.S. Serial Set in print or on microfiche, visit a Federal Government Depository Library near you.

Congressional Information Service (CIS) Resources – The Congressional Information Service (CIS) provides two resources that are likely of interest to researchers in this area.  First, the CIS Annual and the monthly publication, CIS Index to Publications of the U.S. Congress, which we have mentioned in previous legislative history-related posts, indexes and abstracts congressional publications, such as congressional documents, since 1970.  The CIS also produces the CIS Senate Executive Documents and Reports, which provides coverage of Senate treaty documents from 1817 to 1969.

Century of Lawmaking for a New NationCentury of Lawmaking for a New Nation contains the U.S. Serial Set, including select congressional documents, from 1817-1917. For documents predating the U.S. Serial Set, turn to the American State Papers collection, which is also available on Century of Lawmaking and covers the period from 1789 to 1838.

Readex Serial Set – Readex is a subscription database that provides access to the U.S. Serial Set, which includes congressional documents. There are multiple access points, including a subject index, an a to z index, a personal names index,  an index by names of acts, an index by geographic name, and you can browse documents by Congress. You can also search for a citation or perform a search within the full text.

If you have any questions, contact us through Ask A Librarian.

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