U.S. Government Documents as Primary Sources

Primary Source documents are materials created at the time of an event or at a later date by participants in the event. United States documents produced by government agencies such as congressional documents, agency annual reports, and administrative reports are primary resources and provide a wealth of information about the history of the United States. This guide includes some of the basic tools for researching U.S. history.

General Online Sites

100 Milestone Documents – National Archives and Record Service list of 100 United States Documents (
Avalon Project – Yale University; Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy (
Primary Documents in American History – Library of Congress (

Historical Indexes for U.S. Congressional Documents

U.S. Congressional Serial Set 1817-1980 via Newsbank/Readex (
Full text congressional committee documents and reports, including the American State Papers 1789-1838. Ongoing digitization project.
CIS U.S. Serial Set Index, 1789-1969. [print]
Indexes congressional committee documents and reports. See also online version – Readex U.S. Congressional Serial Set for full-text online.
Index Table in Government Information.
LexisNexis Congressional (
Indexes and provides full text access to congressional publications. Search by bill number, laws, subject, committee and more in congressional indexes 1970 to present. Historical Indexes cover congressional documents 1789 to 1969 with no full text.
CIS Index to U.S. Executive Branch Documents, 1789-1909 : guide to documents listed in Checklist of U.S. public documents, 1789-1909, not printed in the U.S. Serial Set [print]
Indexes U.S. Government agency documents through 1909.
Index Table in Government Information.
CIS Index to Publications of the U.S. Congress, 1970 to present. [print]
Indexes U.S. congressional documents, reports, and committee hearings and summarizes legislative histories by public law number. See also online version – LexisNexis Congressional.
Index table in Government Information.

Congressional Proceedings

See also Digital Collections listed below.

Debates and Proceedings 1789-1824.
Gov Info Reference: J11 A5
Register of Debates 1824-1837.
Gov Info Reference: J11 D5
Congressional Globe 1834-1873.
Gov Info Reference: J11 G5
Congressional Record 1873-1984.
Shields Library: J11 R2
Later followed by microfiche and online from GPO Access.
Journal of the House of Representatives 1789-1817.
Shields Library: J31 A2
Journal of the Senate 1789-1817.
Shields Library: J31 A2

Digital Collections of Historical American Documents

American Memory Collection - Library of Congress (
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation – the American Memory collection from the Library of Congress (
Kappler's Indian Affairs Laws and Treaties (

Presidential Papers

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. [print]
Library has volumes from Truman through Bush.
Shields Library: J80 A2
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States ( – University of Michigan Digital Library
American Presidency Project (
Includes Public Papers of the Presidents, Hoover 1929 through Bush. Inaugural addresses, 1789 to present, Annual messages to Congress, Washington 1790 to present.

National Archives

NARA Archival Locator (

Foreign policy

Foreign Relations of the U.S. – from the State Department.
Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series begins in 1861 with Lincoln's presidency.
Declassified Documents Reference System (
DDRS database contains declassified U.S. documents issued between 1941 and 1997.
Digital National Security Archive (
The DNSA database includes more than 55,000 of the most important declassified documents regarding critical U.S. policy decisions.
Documents of American History [print], edited by Henry Steele Commager
Latest Edition: Hum/SocSci Reference and Gov Info Reference: E173 D59 1988
American State Papers [print]
A multivolume set containing more than 6000 publications issued between 1832 and 1861. Arranged thematically, i.e., Foreign Relations constitute 8 volumes. Also online in the Readex Archive of Americana Collection.
Gov Info Reference: J33 A2