Congressional Serial Set

Ellen Strickland
Professor Rael
February 14, 2005
Source Reports
The Serial Set

Everyone in this class can use the Serial Set for their research paper. It is a rich source with an enormous scope. The Serial Set is the collection of documents and reports from the House of Representatives and the Senate of the US Congress. A report refers to formal document that congressional committees submit to the Senate or House explaining the official recommendation of that committee on a specific piece of legislation. It generally includes the issues addressed, the findings, and the deliberations done by the committee. Documents are the texts used by the House and Senate to create the reports, or to gather information on other topics. The documents and reports are numbered and bound, and collected for each congressional term, beginning with the 15th Congress.
The Serial Set was created because the decision makers of the times acknowledged that the United States of America was a new nation and that it is important to keep formal records of what goes on in a state. There was not already a successfully broad way of keeping track of what was going on, and the Serial Set alleviated this problem.
The serial set is huge and there are numerous ways of searching it for topics of interests. For our purposes, (topics from the 19th century) the best way to search it is by logging on the LexisNexis-Conressional search engine. This can be accessed by visiting the Bowdoin College library homepage and searching though the "Indexes and Databases" scroll-down box. Once you have reached the Lexis-Nexis-Congressional search engine, click on "Historical Indexes" - this will limit your search down to the time period we are working on. After opening the historical indexes search engine, you will be given the opportunity to search in a number of different ways. The most straightforward and simplest way of beginning a search of the Serial Set is by choosing either the "Subject" or "Title" to search. I would suggest starting out by searching "Title." Essentially, a "Title" search allows you to enter any word or words, and see if they are part of the title of any congressional document or report. It is important to remember that the language of the 19th century is differs from today. Words we might use to describe an event today may be different from how they were described in the past. If at first you are not able to find relevant material doing a title search, spend some time thinking about the language and words that might have been used to describe an event during the 19th century. Another way to gather this information is through a "Subject" search. The database is actually sorted by specific subjects decided upon by the creaters of the database. Therefore, only specific, pre-decided terms work on a "Subject" search. If the terms you are using for your "Subject" search are not turning up any results, click on "Subject list" and search the index of searchable words to see if you can find something that closely matches what you are researching. Even if this does no lead you to relevant sources, it may help you decipher the right words to use for a "Title" search.
When you get results from your searches, it may seen confusing as to what to do with the information. There are a number of different codes and numbers and they are different than the call numbers we are all used to dealing with. The first number you need is the one that follows the letters "CIS-NO" as this is the number of the Serial Set volume that has information relevant to your search. As the Serial Set was being compiled, each time there were enough new documents and reports to create a new volume, the new volume would have a new number. There is no duplication or repetition within the serial set. It is not necessary, though may prove useful, to know the Congress number or the dates of that Congress when searching. (As a helpful tool, the dates and corresponding Congress numbers are posted in the basement of H&L along the bookcases that store the serial set.) The LexisNexis-Congressional Historical Indexes searches more that just the Serial Set. After submitting a search, it will show you how many matches it found and from what sources the matches came from. All may be useful, just make sure you note where each source is located.
When "Capital Punishment" is searched by "Subject" 43 sources appear, ten of which are located within the Serial Set. This is how a selected source looks on the website:
TITLE: To amend D.C. code relative to death penalty

CIS-NO: 6334 H.rp.1390
DOC-TYPE: Serial Set Collection
DOC-NO: H.rp.1390, 62-3
SESSION-DATE: 1912, 1913

BILL-NO: 62 S. 7162


From this information we see that the information regarding this search is located in volume 6334 of the Serial Set. In "H.rp" the H represents House of Representatives and the rp stands for report. 1390 refers to the assigned number of the report within the volume. With this information, one could ask a Librarian to accompany her to the basement of the library, through the glass doors to where the Government Document are located. The reason you need the librarian is to unlock the bookcases storing the Serial Set volumes from the 19th century. They are locked up because they are rare, and have been vandalized in the past. This is in no way supposed to deter students from using this source, but simply to protect and preserve it. Once it is unlocked, one can find Serial Set volume 6334 (this number is located in large numbers on the spine of the book) and then search through that volume for report 1390. Be sure to note that the document or report number does not correspond with the page number. One can also see from the information given by the search that this report is from 1912/1913, during the 62nd Congress. When you have gained access to the actual volumes of the Serial Set, you can search them by browsing appropriate dates, Congresses, or subjects from the index.
If it is a person that you are interested in gathering data about, there are a couple of helpful things you can do. First, search the LexisNexis indexes by trying out the name in the "Subject" search and the "Title" search. Additionally, if the person you are trying to gather information on was a Representative in either the Senate of the House of Representatives, a useful hint for researching is by simply checking the indexes from the series corresponding to the dates of when that person was a representative. Often, people are better indexed than topics. In the first part of the 19th century, the indexes of the Series are located in the backs of the books. Later in the 19th century, there are specific volumes dedicated to the index.
The serial set is massive. There is undoubtedly information in this source that can be of value to every research topic in this class. It is a rich, valuable source, but because of its size, it can be viewed as daunting and intimidating. Do not be overwhelmed. With patience one will surely find valuable information. The Serial Set is so enormous because Congress is publishing it about everything that it deals with. Instead of individual agencies publishing reports as might be seen today, Congress took the task of publishing everything. The Serial Set has information on cultural as well as "political" topics. It allows us to see what the important topics and issues were of a certain time. It is an invaluable tool for researching social histories. In addition to its all encompassing nature, the Serial Set is invaluable because it not only shows us what the actual legislation created by specific congress, it shows us what went on behind the scenes. It shows us what documents and evidence the congressmen used to make their decisions. It might give us the dissenting views on a piece of legislation. Additionally, the Serial Set documents the "Resolutions" and "Memorials" that were submitted to Congress by a specific state. A "Resolution" or "Memorial" was a way for a state to express its view on a certain issue as a whole. These can offer an interesting view of the stand any given State took (or did not take) on a specific issue.
In addition to the written information given by the Serial Set can also be researched as a means of providing statistics. Within the documents and reports of Congresses, there is an immense amount of Statistics that can be as a primary source. As broad as the topics deliberated upon by Congress are the statistics regarding those topics.
When citing information from the Serial Set, I would suggest referring to The Complete Guide to Citing Government Information Resources: A manual for Writers and Librarians for specifics. Ginny Hopcroft is the librarian at H&L who specializes in Government Documents. She would be happy to help with any steps of the research process. Good luck and have fun with this daunting but exciting source.