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2020

Legislative Records

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How do I find the personal papers of my former Senator or Representative?

 

Good question! Personal paper collections actually aren’t held by the National Archives -- although we’re happy to help you find them.

 

Unlike the official records of congressional committees, which are held by the Center for Legislative Archives, personal papers remain the member’s property. Many members choose to donate their personal papers to an archival repository, often in a home state.

 

Personal paper collections have records of a member’s work while in office and can include campaign files, constituent correspondence, invitations, memos, briefing books, appointment calendars, speeches, district files, voting records, press releases etc. Collections can also include papers from members' pre- and post-congressional careers.

 

Since these collections are geographically dispersed around the country, the best way to locate them is through the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Each entry will include a short biography, information on personal paper collections, and a bibliography.

 

The Center for Legislative Archives also maintains a congressional collection index. The index is arranged by state, and then by the name of the holding institution or organization, followed by the name of the member of Congress.

 

There is also the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, a group of repositories that promote the preservation and use of congressional personal papers and research materials. Many member institutions house collections of members papers and other related research collections.

 

For more background, the Office of History, Art & Archives of the House of Representatives has written a post on the personal papers of members of Congress. Likewise, you can read more about Senators' papers and archives from the Senate Historical Office.

Did you know that the first televised congressional hearing was in 1948? The Senate Committee on Armed Services was the first committee to broadcast a hearing, followed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (see CRS report).

 

However, even though there were these few early broadcasts, the practice of filming wasn't formalized until the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (PL 91-510). The Act allowed hearings to be filmed, but didn't require it -- and certainly not all hearings were recorded.

 

Today between the House Recording Studio, the Senate Recording Studio, and C-SPAN it's easy to watch live footage of the House and the Senate in session. Congressional committees frequently stream hearings and business meetings. And YouTube has a House Hub and a Senate Hub to bring together channels from individual member offices.

 

The Center for Legislative Archives is regularly asked for audio and video clips of congressional hearings. Unfortunately, copies of footage from C-SPAN and the news media very rarely end up in the official records of congressional committees.

 

We usually recommend researchers check with C-SPAN and other film and television archival repositories -- such as the UCLA Film & Television Archive or Vanderbilt University's Television New Archive, with the network archives -- like the NBC Universal Archive, or with library collections -- such as the television collections of the Library of Congress.

 

One exception are our holdings from the Senate Recording Studio from the 108th to 111th Congresses. Information on these records is available through the National Archives Catalog. You can reach us with further questions at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

 

Also, a more general search of the National Archives Catalog will show other hearing videos in the holdings of the National Archives. After a Catalog search, look to the menu down the left side of the page. Under 'Refine By: Type of Materials', select 'Sound Recordings' and 'Moving Pictures' -- this will narrow your search results to audiovisual materials.

 

For more background on video recordings of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, see the Congressional Research Service report: Video Broadcasting of Congressional Proceedings (April 2017).

 

The Smithsonian Magazine also has an article on the topic: "How Watching Congressional Hearings Became an American Pastime" (June 8, 2017).

As far as we’re aware at the Center for Legislative Archives, there is not a single, compiled list of all the unanimous votes cast by either the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

However, there are several ways to find information on recorded votes online.

 

Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, has links to roll call votes from the 101st Congress (1989) to today. Congress.gov also offers a resource guide on recorded votes.

 

If you’re looking for video, C-SPAN has made it easy to find votes by Congress.

 

There are also several resources available to locate voting records pre-1989. The first is GovTrack, which pulls data from a variety of published sources and has a section of their website dedicated to voting records. Another resource is Congressional Quarterly, a print publication likely available through a local library.

 

And there is always the Congressional Record -- the official record of debate and proceedings on the floor of the House and the Senate. The Congressional Record is published each day Congress is in session. The Congressional Record is freely available online through GovInfo. To find voting information, we recommend starting with the Index published at the end of each session. The predecessor publications to the Congressional Record are also available online through A Century of Lawmaking.

 

For more information on the congressional voting process, Parliamentarian’s of the House and Senate have written guides on the legislative process for each chamber -- see How Our Laws Are Made and Enactment of a Law.

 

Additionally, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a number of reports on the legislative process. CRS reports are authoritative, objective, nonpartisan, and cover a wide range of topics. As an example, see the 2008 report: The Rise of Senate Unanimous Consent Agreements.

At the Center for Legislative Archives, we hold the official records of congressional committees and the records of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate as a whole. This means that we hold records covering the entire legislative process -- drafts of bills, amendments, hearing and markup transcripts, committee correspondence and reports, staff working files, petitions and memorials, meeting minutes, executive communications etc.

 

What we don’t have are the original, signed copies of enrolled bills -- sometimes referred to as the red line copy. An enrolled bill is a bill that’s been signed by the presiding officers of the House and the Senate and sent to the President of the United States.

 

Once the bill is signed by the President and becomes law, it is held by a different unit within the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). Red line copies are part of Record Group 11 -- General Records of the U.S. Government. For assistance with RG 11, or to request a copy of a signed law, please email archives1reference@nara.gov.

 

If you have any other legislative questions, please either post in the Legislative Community here on History Hub, or you can email the Center for Legislative Archives at legislative.archives@nara.gov. We’d love to hear from you!

 

For more information on how Congress works, or on engrossed and enrolled bills, Congress.gov has a great resource on the legislative process.