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Government Documents: Historical Federal Documents at WSU Libraries

International, Federal, and State & Local, Government Documents at WSU Libraries

Subject Guide

Lorena O'English's picture
Lorena O'English
Terrell Library 120-D
Washington State University

Office Hours: Most Mondays (Spring 2019) from 1:30-3:30pm at the Terrell Reference Desk or by appointment.
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Help with historical documents

At WSU see "Ask a Question" options or e-mail these librarians:

Lorena O'English, Social Sciences and Government Information Librarian

Mary Gilles, Business and Law Librarian


Law Library of Congress  How do I Find....?

Law Librarian's Society of D.C.  Questions and Answers in Legislative and Regulatory Research


The history of the United States and its government is richly documented in government publications from the earliest times to the present. The Washington State University Libraries were granted selective depository status in 1907 but have a government documents collection that reaches back to the beginning of the United States.  Locating documents is not always straightforward but with improved online searching tools and electronic full-text availability it has become easier to find the documents you need. 

For assistance:

  • see "Help with Historical Documents" in the left column
  • or--link to the Ask a Question page for a list of help alternatives

Government documents received from 1976 forward were entered into the Libraries' catalog, Search It.

For pre-1976 documents try searching the catalog because many older documents are being digitized and cataloged.  If the item for which you are searching is not in the catalog, 1)  use a catalog, index, or finding aid (see the suggestions on this LibGuide) to get the title, authoring agency, year, and other pertinent information; 2) ask a reference librarian for help in finding the document(s) in our tangible collection, in electronic format, or through interlibrary loan.   

For help finding Congressional documents such as bills, hearings, reports, and legislative histories use the guide, "United States Congressional Publications in WSU Libraries."  See the lists and links below for detailed assistance.

Major Online Sources of Historical Documents

1774-1789  Library of Congress American Memory: Historical Documents   Searches early congressional documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and Other Amendments.
1774-1789  Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention 1774-1789    A segment of the Library of Congress' American Memory Collection; items include extracts of the journals of Congress, resolutions, proclamations, committee reports, treaties, and early printed versions of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, all searchable.
1774-1873  A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation; U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1873    The records and acts of Congress from the Journal of the Continental Congress through The Congressional Globe, which ceased publciation with the 42nd Congress in 1873.  All text is searchable.
1789-1838   American State Papers (WSU only)  Congressional materials from the first 14 Congresses (1789-1817) and some years beyond, full-text searchable.
1817-1994    U.S. Congressional Serial Set (WSU only)      Beginning with the 15th Congress through the 103rd Congress, full-text search access to House and Senate Reports and Documents is available. The database is searchable by keyword and by subjects such as education, health, food and agriculture, Indian affairs, science & technology, and social issues. 
1817-1969   U.S. Congressional Serial Set Finding List    Connects Serial Set volume numbers to specific SuDocs numbers from the 15th to the 91st Congresses. Agency annual reports and other serials are listed with their SuDoc and corresponding Serial Set numbers. Includes additional links to Serial Set resources.
1817-1969   U.S. Congressional Serial Set Inventory     A complete inventory of serial set holdings in U.S. libraries, from v. 1- v. 12879-1.
1873-current    Table of Congressional Publication Volumes and Presidential Issuances    A numeric guide to Serial Set volumes by Congress published by the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.

Core Documents of United States Democracy  The Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, and other fundamental documents of the country. 

 govinfo  (dates vary)  GPO's federal digital system, an archive and full-text source for publications from the 3 branches of government.  Older materials are being added continuously.

ProQuest Congressional  (dates vary) (WSU only)  U.S. Congressional publications including hearings, bill text, legislative histories, voting records, calendars, and more.  Congressional publications searchable from 1789- ; legislative histories, bills, laws searchable from 1980's-

Historical Documents in Paper and Other Formats

Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence

Holland & Terrell Docs Y 1.1/7: [cong.]
Constitution of the United States, Analysis and Interpretation

1994- , 104th Cong.-  Holland & Terrell Docs Y 1.1/3:    govinfo

Congressional Bills

1789-1879, 1913-1921,  1st-45th Cong., 63rd-66th Cong.  Holland Microforms (cabinet 21) "TSD Microfilm 1892" (House bills); "TSD Microfilm 1898" (Senate bills)

1799-1873  House Bills and Resolutions (American Memory)   |   1819-1873  Senate Bills and Resolutions (American Memory)   |    1824-1873 Senate Joint Resolutions (American Memory)

1979-  ,  96th Cong.-   Holland Microfiche Y 1.4/1-9 Latest in Holland Reference Microfiche Collection, earlier in Holland Microforms. To locate bill use Finding Aid for Congressional Bills and Resolutions, located in Holland and Terrell Libraries Reference Docs GP 3.28. Ask for assistance from the Reference Desk.

1989- ,   101st Cong.-     ProQuest Congressional (WSU only)

1993-103rd Cong.-   govinfo

Congressional Committee Hearings

1869-1934,  41st-73rd Cong.   Holland Microforms   "Pre-1935 Congressional Hearings"   microfiche

1900-1982,  56th-97th Cong.        Holland Doc/Holland Microforms; Each hearing in this period has an individual SuDocs number and is shelved in Holland Doc (paper copy) or Holland Microforms (microfiche copy). Identify the SuDoc call number through CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index (1833-1969; Holland Ref KF49.C62 U5), Catalog of U.S. Government Publications,  or Monthly Catalog of Government Publications (1900-1998; Holland Ref Doc GP 3.8).
1983-1992,  98th-102nd Cong.       Holland Microforms in CIS Microfiche Library (cabinet 18, KF49.C62 C58x). Arranged by CIS abstract no. which can be found in the CIS Index, Holland Ref Z1223.Z7 C6.
1993-  103rd Congress-      Holland Microforms; shelved with SuDoc microfiche (cabinets 17-20); call no. available in library catalog
1970-    ProQuest Congressional  (WSU only)      An online index and full-text database of publications by and about the U.S. Congress including hearings, bill texts, legislative histories, voting records, congressional calendars, hot topics and more.
Congressional Committee Prints

Viewed as internal background information publications for Senate and House Committees on topics related to their legislative or research activities.

1830's-1969,   -91st Cong.   Incomplete collection of committee prints by SuDoc number, shelved in federal documents stacks, Holland Library stacks 800-824 on 3rd floor.  To identify them use the CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index in Terrell Reference J74.C66x 1980 

1970-1992, 91st-102nd Cong.    Complete committee prints holdings on Congressional Information Service microfiche, Holland Microforms KF49.C62 C58x 

1993-  , 103rd Cong.-  Committee prints on microfiche by SuDoc number, shelved in Holland Microforms;  searchable in library catalog 

1995- , 104th Cong.-   govinfo

American State Papers and Serial Set (Senate and House Reports, Senate and House Documents)

1789-1838     American State Papers          Congressional documents from the first 14 congresses (1789-1816) and some additional years are known as the American State Papers. Records are not complete due to the Capitol fire of 1814 and the lack of record-keeping.  Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Compact Storage: Serial nos. 01-038; Hol Doc Y [serial no.]; fill out a request card at the Circulation Desk (24-hour turnaround); 2 hr. checkout

1817-      Serial Set     The United States Congressional Serial Set, sometimes known as the "Sheepskin Set" or the "Congressional Edition", contains the numbered Senate and House Documents and Reports from the 15th Congress on (1817-) and is one of the main sources of historical government documents. The Serial Set also includes Federal agency reports and publications, Journals of the House and Senate, Congressional administrative reports, and selected reports of nongovernmental agencies. A more detailed description of the contents and a schedule of volumes from 1970 to present is contained in this overview created by the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC. It includes a table of congressional publication volumes and presidential issuances from 1873 to the present.
  • 1817-1825; 15th-18th Congresses,   Serial Set  v. 1-123: Microprint     Holland and Terrell Libraries Microforms Room; this microprint set is with the depository microprint in Cabinet 25 in the northwest corner
  • 1826-1978; 19th-95th Congresses,   Serial Set  v. 124-13219:     Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Compact Storage, #A4736; fill out a request card at the Circulation Desk (24-hour turnaround); 2 hr. checkout
  • 1979- ; 96th- Congresses,   Serial Set  v. 13220- : microfiche     Holland and Terrell Libraries Microforms Room, Cabinet 20: House Documents Y 1.1/7; Senate Documents Y 1.1/3; Senate Executive Documents Y 1.1/4 (continued by Senate Treaty Documents);  Senate Executive Reports Y 1.1/6;   Senate Reports Y 1.1/5
  • 1990- (101st Cong.- ) ,   Reports;   1995- (104th Cong.- )   Documents       ProQuest Congressional  (WSU only)
  • 1995- (104th Cong., 1st sess.- ) House, Senate, and Executive Reports; House, Senate and Treaty Documents       govinfo

Congressional Record

1774-1789     Journals of the Continental Congress.   Washington: Government Printing Office 1904-37.     Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Storage A1508, a reprint copy under Holland Doc LC 4.5:1968. Online copy in the American Memory Collection

1789-     Congressional Record and predecessors.     A record of what is said on the floor of Congress, published every day Congress is in session. The sections are Proceedings of the Senate and House, Extensions of Remarks, and Daily Digest. For a more detailed look at these titles and their history see Overview of the Congressional Record and Its Predecessor Publications.

  • The debates and proceedings in the Congress of the United States (also known as the Annals of Congress). Washington, D.C. : Gales and Seaton, 1834-1856. 1st cong.-18th cong. 1st sess. (1789-1824) Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Storage B2122, another copy in Holland Microfilm US Doc X
  • Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives / by the author of the Thirty years' view. New York : D. Appleton, 1857-1861. 1st cong.- 35th cong. 1st sess. (1789-1856) Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Storage A2163, fill out a request card at the Circulation Desk (24-hour turnaround); 2 hr. checkout Another copy at Holland J15 .B4
  • Register of Debates in Congress. Washington, [D.C.] : Gales & Seaton, 1825-1837. 18th cong. 2d sess.-25th cong. 1st sess. (1824-1838) Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Storage B2122, fill out a request card at the Circulation Desk (24-hour turnaround); 2 hr. checkout Another copy in Holland Microfilm US Doc X
  • Congressional Globe. Washington : Blair & Rives, 1834-1873. 23d cong.-42d cong. (1833/1834-1872/1873) Holland and Terrell Libraries Locked Storage B2122, fill out a request card at the Circulation Desk (24-hour turnaround); 2 hr. checkout Another copy in Holland Microfilm US Doc X
  • Congressional Record: proceedings and debates of the ... Congress. Washington : Govt. Print. Off., 1874- Washington : U.S. G.P.O., 43rd cong. - (1873- );  43rd-94th cong., 1873-1976 Holland Microfilm US Doc X 95th-100th cong.;  1977-1988 Holland Microfiche US Doc X ;  101st cong. -, 1989- Holland Microfiche US Doc X 1.1;   101st cong. - , 1989- ;   87th cong. -, 1961- govinfo

Laws and Legislative Histories


1789-   Statutes at Large     Laws and treaties approved by Congress and signed by the President. Statutes at Large are published in the order of the date of passage and include text of amendments to the Constitution. Treaties and proclamations were included until 1948.  Terrell Reference Doc GS 4.111

1951-  Digitized Statutes at Large      govinfo

1973-   Public Laws

1994-   United States Code     govinfo

1995-   Public and Private Laws    govinfo

Legislative Histories    As a bill moves through Congress various documents are created such as committee reports and hearings, the bill and amendments to it, and sponsor remarks.  The compilation of these documents are the bill's legislative history.  The following are sources of legislative histories.

1970-2003    CIS Annual   Terrell Reference Z1223.Z7 C6

1968-2001     United States Code Congressional and Administrative News   Holland and Terrell KF5402.U55x

1969-   ProQuest Congressional (WSU only)

Search library catalog by keyword, e.g.,   "voting rights" and "legislative history"

Indexes and Finding Aids

1774-1881    Poore, Benjamin Perley    Descriptive Catalogue of the Government Publications of the United States, Sept. 5, 1774-March 4, 1881.    Washington: Government Printing Office, 1885.  Continued by Ames' Comprehensive Index to the Publications of the United States Government, 1881-1893 and by the Catalogue of Public Documents, 53d- Congress, 1893- .  Holland Ref Doc Y 4.P93/1:G74/1

1789-1909    Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909.    3rd ed., New York:  Kraus Reprint Corp., 1962 (Reprint of 3rd ed., GPO 1911).  1st-60th Congress.  complete checklist (in SuDoc number order) of judicial, executive, and legislative public documents issues by the U.S. Government.  Terrell Reference Z1223.A11  1962

1789-      CIS U.S. Serial Set Index    Beginning with the American State Papers in 1789 and including the index and carto-bibliography of maps, 1789-1969. Terrell Reference Z1223.Z7 U55   OnlineU.S. Congressional Serial Set (WSU only)

1830-1969     CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index.    Washington:  Congressional Information Service, Inc., 1980.  21st-91st Congress.  Terrell Reference J74.C66x 1980

1833-1969     CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index.   Washington:  Congressional Information Service, Inc., 1981-85.  23rd-91st Congress.  "Congressional committee hearings proceedings were first heald early in the 19th century and became a major component in the deliverative work of Congress during the years following the Civil War." --Introduction.  Terrell Reference KF49.C62 U5

1875-1990     Congressional Record Index.    Washington:  GPO, 1874.  43rd-101st Congress.  The proceedings of Congress.  Terrell Reference Doc X

1881-93     Ames, John G.     Comprehensive Index to the Publications of the United States Government, 1881-1893.   Washington:  GPO, 1905, 2 vol.  Terrell Reference Doc Y4745, Y4746

1893-1940     Catalogue of the Public Documents of the (53rd-76th) Congress and of All Departments of the Government of the United States for the Period from Mr. 4, 1893 to Dec. 31, 1940.    Washington:  GPO.  25 vol.  Terrell Reference Doc GP 3.6

1900-     Monthly Catalog of the United States Government Publications.    Washington:  GPO, 1895-  .  An index to Congressional publications, judiciary materials, and documents issued by executive agencies.  Terrell Reference Doc GP 3.8 (1900-1998);  Online Catalog of U.S. Government Publications

1900-1971      Cumulative Subject Index to the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, 1900-1971.     Arlington, VA: Carrollton Press, Inc., 1973-95.  Terrell Reference Z1223.Z7 B9

1941-1970     United States Government Publications Monthly Catalog:  Quinquennial Cumulative Personal Author Index.     Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press, 1971-79.  Terrell Reference Doc GP 3.8/a

1951-2002     Congressional Index.    Chicago: Commerce Clearing House, 1937- .  (1951-2002, 82nd-107th Congress).  Terrell Reference J69.C6

1970-       CIS Index to Publications of the United States Congress.     Washington: Congressional Information Service, 1970- . 91st Congress.  Terrell Reference Z1223.Z7 C6;  Online ProQuest Congressional (WSU only)

ProQuest Congressional  (dates vary)  U.S. Congressional publications including hearings, bill text, legislative histories, voting records, calendars, and more.  Congressional publications searchable from 1789- ; legislative histories, bills, laws searchable from 1980's-

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