Government Documents: History Research Guide

Scope of U.S. Government Information

The United States Government has always published a wide range of information sources, and is knows as the world's largest publisher. Included is information going back to the formative period of the United States, providing a rich treasure trove of primary source information for historians, including:

  • Information from all three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial
  • Information from individual Federal agencies covering a surprisingly wide range of issues and topics

U.S Documents at NCSU Libraries

NCSU Libraries has been a partial depository library since 1932, meaning that for many years we automatically received a large number of documents in print and other formats, along with more recent electronic government publications.These materials are organized using a special SuDoc classification system that arranges the materials by issuing agency, rather than the Library of Congress call numbers, the subject-based arrangement used for other library materials.

UNC-Chapel Hill is the Regional Depository for our area.  They are charged with receiving all U.S. Government Depository publications, and keeping them forever. U.S. government documents that are not held at NCSU are available through UNC-CH.

Government Documents on the Internet

Many government documents are publically available on the Internet. You have the option of limiting your Google search to sites ending in .gov by using the following formula:

search term

Example: olympic

Fall 2012 Update - Changes in Access to U.S. Documents

NCSU Libraries' collection of print U.S. government documents has been moved from DH Hill Library to the bookBot at Hunt Library. If you are searching in the Library Catalog, and find a Government Document, you no longer need to locate the item yourself from the shelf. Instead, just use the Request link in the Library Catalog record, and the item will be retrieved for you from the bookBot.

Whenever you need U.S. Government Document, you can:

  • Try the electronic resources listed below
  • Try to find the item in the Library Catalog (especially for more recent materials published after 1976)
  • Contact AskUs for help identifying the information you need
  • Use Tripsaver to request items you need that are not available online (or that you can not find)

Public Documents Masterfile (new in 2012)

If you are looking for government information on a topic, try starting your search in Public Documents Masterfile. This database allows you to identify documents from the past 200 years, and coming from a wide range of federal government agencies.

Congressional Information

Proquest Congressional
Electronic access to selected Congressional information, going back to approximately 1970.

Electronic access to selected Congressional information going back to the mid 1970s.

FDSYS (Federal Digital System)
Full text Congressional information from the Government Printing Office going back to the mid 1990s.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates
Collection of early Congressional materials digitized by the Library of Congress, part of the American Memory project. Included are the American State Papers, and selected portions of the U.S. Serial Set.

CIS Annual: Index (1970-)
D. H. Hill Documents Reference KF49 .C62
Index to Congressional hearing, reports, and prints. Look for guide at front of each volume for information on locating text of materials.

U.S. Congressional Committee Hearing Index (1917-1969)
D. H. Hill Documents Reference KF40 .C56
Index to early Congressional hearings. Look for guide at front of each volume for information on locating text of materials.

U.S. Serial Set Index (Including American State Papers) (1789-1969)
D. H. Hill Documents Reference J74 .C65
The Serial Set begins with the 15th Congress in 1817. It includes reports of the Senate and House, usually dealing with topics of proposed legislation as well as other documents requested by Congress. Also included are 19th century Executive documents. A similar set covering the period from 1789-1838 is called the American State Papers. Look for guide at front of each volume for information on locating text of materials.


Executive Information

The American Presidency Project
Online collection of historical presidential documents including Public Papers of the Presidents and Executive Orders.

LexisNexis Academic
Select US Legal, then Federal Statutes, Codes, & Regulations, for access to current Code of Federal Regulations, and Federal Register back to the beginning in 1936.

CIS Index to U.S. Executive Branch Documents (1789-1932) and (1910-1932)
D. H. Hill Documents Reference Z1223 .Z7 C465
Index to Microfiche collection of executive documents, located in the Satellite at MF114

Judicial Information (Court Cases)

LexisNexis Academic
Select US Legal, then Federal & State Cases.


Foreign Relations


Foreign Relations of the United States
U.S. Documents. S 1.1
This is a major series published by the State Dept, covering the period from 1861-1976. Recent volumes also available online through the U.S. Department of State.

Digital National Security Archive
The National Security Archive is a non-profit research institute that seeks to obtain government documents that shed light on areas of U.S. foreign policy. Their materials are organized into collections that focus on particular regions or topics. Database contains 15 complete collections of declassified documents: Afghanistan, Berlin Crisis 1958-1962, Cuban Missile Crisis, El Salvador, Iran-Contra Affair, Intelligence Community, Iran Revolution, Iraqgate, Military Uses of Space, Nicaragua, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Philippines, Presidential Directives from Truman to Clinton, South Africa, and Soviet Estimate.

Declassified Documents Reference System
Full text with indexing of declassified U.S. Documents obtained from presidential libraries. This collection is based on materials requested by researchers at these libraries. The database ranges from the years immediately following World War II, when declassified documents were first made widely available, through the 1970s. Nearly every major foreign and domestic event of these years is covered: the Cold War, Vietnam, foreign policy shifts, the civil rights movement, and others.

Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties


Military History

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
(Digitized version from Making of America)

Also available in print at:
U.S. Documents W45.5:

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion
(Digitized version available in: Making of America)

Also available in print at:
U.S. Documents. N16.6:


Census and Statistical Information

Historical Census Browser
Data on population and economy of U.S. states and counties from 1790 to 1960.

Historical Statistics of the United States : Earliest Times to the Present (5 vols., also online)
D. H. Hill Learning Commons HA202 .H57 2006
This is a treasure trove of statistical data from the early days of the U.S., up to 2005. Broad topics include: Population, Work and welfare, Economic structure and performance, Economic sectors and Government and international relations.

Quick Start Census Guide (NCSU Libraries)
Resources for finding digital census data and GIS boudaries at NCSU

LexisNexis Statistical
Electronic access to statistics from government, private, and international sources.