The American State Papers and United States Congressional Serial Set

The American State Papers (ASP) and the United States Congressional Serial Set (Serial Set) are multi-volume government publications containing reports and documents that record the activities of the United States Congress. An often-overlooked resource, the ASP and Serial Set can provide genealogists with valuable information to piece together details and context related to their ancestors’ lives.

The ASP and Serial Set include congressional reports, primarily related to private and public acts that went before Congress and congressional committees. Many of these private acts are related to military pensions, land claims, and relief. The ASP and Serial Set also include congressional documents, such as administrative and investigative reports, manuals, and journals. Although these publications are focused primarily on the activities of Congress, reports and documents related to the executive branch were also published in the Serial Set beginning in the late 1800s. These include annual reports for government agencies, registers of government employees, reports including statistics and survey results, telephone directories, casualty lists, and other executive branch publications.

Organization and Access
The ASP, the predecessor to the Serial Set, covers the early federal period and includes Congressional publications for the 1st to 14th Congresses (1789–1816). The ASP is organized into thirty-eight volumes, arranged chronologically within ten subject areas: Foreign Relations, Indian Affairs, Finance, Commerce and Navigation, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Post Office, Public Lands, Claims, and Miscellaneous.

The Serial Set begins with the 15th United States Congress in 1817 and continues to the present day. These volumes are arranged by Congress and session number, and then by publication series—Senate Reports, Senate Documents, House Reports, and House Documents, for example.

The ASP and Serial Set are available in hard copy at federal depository libraries (usually major public libraries, university libraries, or law libraries) across the United States. There are also several options for digital viewing of these volumes and their indexes.

  • The ASP has been fully digitized on the Library of Congress American Memory website. In addition, each volume’s table of contents and index—but not the full text—is searchable on the site. For the Serial Set, a limited collection of imaged documents and reports can be found on the American Memory website—and an even more limited selection of that collection is keyword searchable. (The American Memory website also provides access to other government publications, such as the Congressional Record, Annals of Congress, and Statutes at Large, a tremendous resource for debates as well as public and private laws enacted by Congress throughout American history.)
  • GenealogyBank, a subscription-based service known primarily for its searchable newspaper database, offers full-text searchable images of the complete ASP series, and the Serial Set through 1994. GenealogyBank is the best option for genealogists looking to maximize their use of these publications, as the site offers the ability to search the full text (as opposed to only the table of contents and index) and view images of the digitized pages. The full text of the ASP and the Serial Set is also searchable through LexisNexis and Readex, but these resources—typically accessed through libraries—are not as easily accessible to genealogists.

The ASP and Serial Set can be searched for names, locations, landmarks, wars, treaties, patents, businesses, and many other subjects. If an index entry of interest is discovered, the report or document it refers to can be found in the corresponding digitized or hard copy volume of the ASP or Serial Set. If an entry of interest is found during a full-text search on GenealogyBank, the digital image of the corresponding report or document can be viewed.

The information included in the ASP or Serial Set often indicates whether additional records related to the subject may exist. For some of the private and public acts that went before Congress and congressional committees, additional records can be found at the National Archives and Records Administration in either Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, or Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate.

For example, among the thousands of bills that went before the 57th Congress was a bill introduced “to correct the military record of Willis Hicks.” The Serial Set provides limited information—that the bill was read twice and referred. The bill file (part of Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate), however, provides additional detail about Willis’s military service and claims.

Many of the reports published in the Serial Set can serve as substitutes for records that have been lost or destroyed. One such example is the Official Army Register as of January 1, 1944, published as part of the 78th Congress House Documents. The lengthy report includes details about Army ranks and promotions, and can serve as a replacement for some of the information that was lost when many Army personnel records were destroyed in 1973 as a result of a fire.

The ASP and Serial Set also include documents and reports related to nongovernmental organizations, such as private schools and the Daughters of the American Revolution. These documents and reports can provide details necessary to identify related records that may be sought at private or local archives. Likewise, annual reports and employee lists for government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or the Post Office Department can open the door to a plethora of government agency records held at the National Archives.

Genealogists who have not used the ASP and Serial Set can be missing out on detailed information about their ancestors and historical context about events that happened during their ancestors’ lifetimes. The reports and documents in the ASP and Serial Set—and the records they can point toward—can be a tremendous resource for genealogists.

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