Monday, March 19, 2012

U.S. Congressional Serial Set for Genealogists, Part I

Perfect Ancestral Records
Many family historians and genealogists have accessed HeritageQuest Online remotely using their local library card. Most go directly to the census files and fail to explore the U.S. Congressional Serial Set collection.  If you haven’t tried HeritageQuest Online yet, check with your local library to see if they have a subscription to this popular Genealogy research tool.

In addition to various Census Records, Heritage Quest Online offers digitized books that are searchable by people, place or publication, PERSI, the Periodical Source Index, digitized Freedman’s Bank records, Revolutionary War collection and the US Serial Set. 

Although each hold great interest to the family researcher, let’s review the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, digitized by LexisNexis and provided to the family researcher online. 
What is the US Serial Set?
The 15th Congress, 1817 – 1819 under James Monroe, began the publication of the United States Congressional Serial Set which contains House and Senate Document and Senate Reports.  The bound books of the Serial Set were assigned a unique serial number, thus the name. The collection includes Private Relief Actions, Memorials and Petitions which have genealogical interests. These topics have been abstracted and digitized on HeritageQuest Online (Proquest)  and Readex of Newsbank databases for online search queries. (Note: You will want to do a name and place search on both of these abstracted collections, as they might offer different finds).

Prior to 1817 the 1st – 14th US Congress (1789-1815) activities, records and documents may be found amongst the 39 published volumes of the American State Papers.  

Genealogy Research
A National Archives overview of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, penned by Jeffery Hartley in 2009, Using the Congressional Serial Set for Genealogical Research  tells us that the reports and documents cover topics on “women, African  Americans, Native Americans, students, soldiers, sailors, pensioners, landowners  and inventors.” Luckily for us, both HeritageQuest Online (ProQuest) and Readex of NewsBank have abstracted and digitized text-searchable articles of genealogical interests and provided them to us online.

HeritageQuest Online (ProQuest) collection includes documents from 1789 to 1969. The Readex Collection includes the Congressional Serial Set of 1817-1994 (103rd Congress). As these reports may be private in nature and mention your ancestor by name, or have a ruling or account of your ancestor’s activities, the family researcher will surely want to scour the collection using name, place and keyword searches.  

What Will You Find?
Bounty land and other land claims may assist the genealogists in understanding why an ancestor was granted or denied land. The private land claim records and documents between 1789 to WWII are extensive; over 500,000 were brought before congress during these years. Researchers may also find law suits that name their ancestors. I often see soldier, widows, pensioners, named, especially for the Civil War era, but there is a large collection of Revolutionary War reports also, some detailed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Private relief petitions and claims offer historical information on our ancestor as well.

An interesting find may be of a divorced woman in search for financial assistance. Details of the divorce are often given.  Another great find may be locating your ancestor as a federal employee between 1883-1863. These records may provide residence, work assignment and pay.  Army and Navy registers from 1848 to the early 1860’s are also available and often include death information.  Other findings may include land surveys, western explorations and expansions and railroad papers and a plethora of maps.   

For More Information

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers


  1. Thanks for this great post! Learned a few new things. Happy Monday!

  2. All new info to me! Thanks for posting.

  3. FYI: The complete Serial Set, including the Serial Set Maps is available in - check it out.

  4. It is truly a nice and useful piece of information. I am satisfied that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.
    Professional Land Surveyor