Archival Research Resources for the House of Representatives
“These papers and their contents separately may tell us very little about the place and time in which they were created, but they are threads that, when woven together, create the fabric of our democracy.”
— Representative Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, supporting H. Con. Res. 307
From the opening of the 1st Congress (1789–1791) on April 1, 1789, the House of Representatives initiated procedures for organizing the records it produced, a process administrated from the beginning by the Clerk of the House. Recordkeeping practices evolved as committee clerks instituted new classification systems and filing in an effort to grapple with the House’s increasing workload as well as meet the challenges of retaining and preserving various types of materials. In 1880, the House of Representatives first adopted a rule requiring committee clerks to transfer their records to the Clerk of the House within three days of the conclusion of a Congress.
House Rule VII governs official House records, requiring committees and officers to transfer to the Clerk, 1) any noncurrent records of committees and subcommittees, and 2) those created or acquired by House Officers and their staffs in the course of their official duties. The Clerk eventually transfers these records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), where the Center for Legislative Archives preserves and eventually makes them accessible to the public after a lapse of 30 years from the date of their creation. Unlike executive branch agencies, which transfer the legal rights of their records to NARA, the House of Representatives maintains permanent ownership of its records.
Files generated by a Member’s congressional office during the Member’s service are not official House records and instead remain the Member’s property. In 2008, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 307, declaring that Members’ papers are “crucial to the public’s understanding on the role of Congress in the making of the Nation’s laws,” and “each Member of Congress should take all necessary measures to manage and preserve the Member's own Congressional papers.” Many Members choose to donate their papers to a repository, such as a college or university, where their records are preserved and made accessible to the public.
This resource guide is a compilation of both official government publications and archival collections relating to congressional material. While not an exhaustive list, it is meant to help researchers and students gain a more sophisticated understanding of the nuances of congressional records and Member papers.