History of House Records
When T.R. Schellenberg, Deputy Examiner for the National Archives, appraised the records of the House in 1937, he described “a great wealth of material touching every phase of our national existence.” From landmark legislation to the current bills, hearings, and investigations that will eventually be available for research, the official records of the House of Representatives truly document the growth, and growing pains, of the nation.
From the opening of the 1st Congress (1789–1791) on April 1, 1789, the House of Representatives organized the records it produced, a process managed from the beginning, and to this day, by the Clerk of the House. Recordkeeping practices evolved and new classification and filing systems were instituted to grapple with the House’s growing workload, as well as meet the challenges of retaining and preserving diverse types of materials generated by the committees of the House.
Recordkeeping continues to change, but the historical importance of House records remains the same. Still, many of the early struggles encountered by recordkeepers remain issues; namely, finding suitable storage, managing new file formats, and preserving historical records in an institution most often focused on the future, not the past. Today, there are 21 standing committees, in addition to select and joint committees. Committees hold hearings, consider legislation, conduct investigations, and oversee executive branch agencies. Each activity produces thousands of pages of records in the form of drafts and markups of legislation, meeting minutes, hearing transcripts, reports, correspondence, memos, petitions and memorials, and background material. These seemingly routine records capture the intent and context of the work of the House.