Genealogy: Government Documents


Government documents are an often overlooked source of information for genealogical research. Some documents, like registers of employees or military personnel and indexes to patents and trademarks, provide information on identifiable individuals. Others offer a wealth of statistical information. Still others give historical accounts perhaps on branches of the military or historic sites and buildings.

Government Documents, on the second floor of Cornette Library, collects the publications of both the federal and Texas state governments. The items shown below are not a comprehensive listing of documents of interest for your research. You may wish to browse the collection or consult Andriot's Guide to U.S. Government Publications to find additional documents. Many of the older documents are fragile and should be used with care. If you need assistance, please ask at the Government Documents Desk.

Documents Finding Aids

Both print and electronic finding aids are available to help you find government documents. Should you need assistance using these, please check with the Government Documents staff. You may also wish to browse the shelves in search of an intriguing title.

Keep in mind that the federal government is not static. With the growth in land area, population, and American involvement throughout the world, the government expanded and changed. Because federal documents are shelved with the department, bureau, agency, or office that published them, tracking information over time can be challenging. For example, the U.S. Army resided in the Department of War from 1789 to 1947 when it became part of the National Military Establishment. Two years later the newly created Department of Defense absorbed the military branches. This means that publications relating to the U.S. Army are shelved under the Department of War, the National Military Establishment, and the Department of Defense. Each document has a number called a Superintendent of Documents number that designates its place on the shelf.

Department of Agriculture

Since its creation in 1862, The Department of Agriculture has conducted research and distributed information to the American public. Many of its publications are helpful for researching agricultural practices, crops grown, weather, and other agriculture-related topics. The list below includes major publications of the Department. Consult Andriot's Guide to U.S. Government Publications for the SuDoc numbers for publications from agencies like the Bureau of Animal Industry, Forest Service, Bureau of Plant Industry, Weather Bureau, Office of Farm Management and Farm Economics, Bureau of Home Economics, Soil Conservation Service, Farm Security Administration, and Rural Electrification Administration within the Department of Agriculture.

Department of Commerce

When it was established in 1903, the Department of Commerce and Labor assumed the functions of some agencies in the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the Department of the Interior. Among them were lighthouses, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, steamboat inspection, navigation, standards, fisheries, census, statistics, and immigration. The Department split into two separate departments in 1913 creating the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor.

Bureau of the Census (1903-1972, 1975-)

Following its establishment in 1902 as the United States Census Office within the Department of the Interior, this Office was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903 and renamed the Bureau of the Census. For earlier publications refer to the Census Office publications under the Department of the Interior.

Bureau of the Census publications are rich in statistical information. The federal government gathers statistics on many topics and analyzes, compiles, and publishes these statistics. You'll find statistical data on agriculture, manufacturing, telephones, telegraphs, municipal elections, fire alarms, police patrol signaling systems, the insane and feeble-minded, marriage and divorce, mines and quarries, mortality, births, religious bodies, working women, and wealth, debt, and taxation. Browse the stacks for documents numbered C3 or ask for assistance at the Government Documents Desk. Some specific documents are listed below. Government documents relating to the decennial censuses do not list individuals persons' names but rather provide statistical information.

Bureau of Navigation (1903-1932) and Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (1936-1942)

The Bureau of Navigation transferred from the Treasury Department in 1903. It joined the Steamboat Inspection Service in 1932 to become the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection which was renamed the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation in 1936.

Patent and Trademark Office

Originally part of the Department of the Interior, the Patent Office transferred to the Department of Commerce in 1925. It was renamed the Patent and Trademark Office in 1975.

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense was established in 1949. Earlier military-related documents are shelved with the National Military Establishment, the Department of the Navy for sea forces, and the Department of War for land forces.

Department of the Air Force

Earlier records for the Department of the Air Force are shelved with the National Military Establishment (1947-1949).

Department of the Army

The Department of the Army joined the Department of Defense in 1949. Earlier documents are shelved with the Department of War from 1789 to 1947 and the National Military Establishment from 1947 to 1949.

Army Medical Department

The Department was created in 1950. Earlier records are shelved with the Department of War (1818-1947) and the National Military Establishment (1947-1947).

Center of Military History

Previously the Historical Division under the National Military Establishment (1947-1949), the Center transferred to the Department of the Army in 1949. Its name changed to the Office of the Chief of Military History in 1950 and to the Center of Military History in 1974.

Corps of Engineers

The Corps of Engineers, previously the Engineer Department in the Department of War (1802-1947) and the National Military Establishment (1947-1949), transferred to the Department of Defense in 1949.

Quartermaster Corps

The Quartermaster Corps, the Army's supply corps, became a part of the Department in 1949. Earlier records are shelved with the Department of War Quartermaster's Department (1812-1912) and the National Military Establishment (1947-1949) under the Quartermaster General of the Army.

Department of the Navy

From 1789 to 1798, the Secretary for the Department of War headed naval affairs. In 1798 the Department of the Navy was established. It was incorporated into National Military Establishment in 1947 and transferred into the Department of Defense in 1949.

Marine Corps

Earlier documents for the Marine Corps are shelved with the Department of the Navy (1798-1947) and the National Military Establishment (1947-1949).

Department of Education

The Department was formed in 1979. Earlier documents pertaining to education are shelved under the Bureau of Education and the Office of Education in the Department of the Interior from 1869 to 1939, the Federal Security Agency from 1939 to 1952, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1953 to 1969.

Department of the Interior

At its inception in 1849, the Department took responsibility for the General Land Office, the Office of Indian Affairs, the Pension Office, and the Patent Office. Public buildings, the penitentiary of Washington, D.C., the United Census, and mining also came under its purview.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (1849-)

Bureau of Land Management (1946-)

Bureau of Pensions (1849-1930)

General Land Office (1849-1946)

National Park Service (1916-)

The NPS was created in 1916. NPS documents include information on National Parks, historic and archeological sites on the National Register of Historic Places, historic resource and cultural landscape studies, and bibliographies on special topics. The SuDoc numbers for National Park Service publications begin with I 29.

Office of Education (1869-1939)

United States Geological Survey(1879-)

Department of Justice

The Department of Justice came into being in 1870. Prior to its inception, the Attorney General was a member of the President's Cabinet.

Attorney General's Office

Department of Labor

An act of March 4, 1913 created the Department, separating actions related to labor from the Department of Commerce and Labor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (1913-)

Separated from the Department of the Interior in 1913, the Bureau publishes data on employment and manpower, productivity, wages, industrial relations, prices, costs, and standards of living.

Bureau of Immigration (1913-1933)

Transferred from the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1913 to the new Department of Labor, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (C 7) was split into two bureaus (L 3 and L 6). The two bureaus consolidated into the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1933.

Department of the Navy

The Department saw its beginning in 1798. For the previous 9 years, the Secretary for the Department of War oversaw naval affairs. In 1947 the Department became part of the National Military Establishment, and two years later it came under the Department of Defense.

Bureau of Medicine & Surgery (1842-1947)

Bureau of Naval Personnel (1942-1947)

Marine Corps (1798-1947)

Naval Records and Library Office (1915-1947)

Naval Reserve Force Division (1915-1947)

Office of Naval Operations (1915-1947)

Department of State

The State Department was established in 1789.

Department of the Treasury

The Department was established in 1789.

Coast Guard (1915-1917, 1919-1941, 1947-1966)

Department of War

The Department of War came into being in 1789 at the end of the Revolutionary War. It became the Department of the Army with establishment of the National Military Establishment in 1947. Two years later it became one of the military departments in the newly established Department of Defense.

Adjutant General's Department (1913-1947)

Engineer Department (Corps of Engineers) (1802-1947)

Medical Department (1818-1947)

National Guard(1818-1947)

War Records Office (1878-1899)

Board on Geographic Names

Fish & Fisheries Commission

First established as the United States Fish Commission in 1871, the United States Fish & Fisheries Commission came into being in 1880. It was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903 when it became the Bureau of Fisheries (C 6).

General Services Administration

GSA was established in 1949.

National Archives and Records Service (1949-1985)

In 1985 NARS became the National Archives and Records Administration.

Library of Congress

The long history of the nation's library began in 1800.

National Archives & Records Administration

Since its creation in 1934, the National Archives has been the repository of the nation's archival records. In July 1949 the National Archives was transferred to the General Services Administration, and was renamed the National Archives and Records Service later that year. Its name changed again in 1985 to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

National Military Establishment

Adjutant General's Office

Engineer Department

Historical Division

Bureau of Naval Personnel

Naval Academy

Post Office Department

Smithsonian

In 1829 Englishman James Smithson bequeathed his fortune to found the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian was established by Congress in 1846.

American Historical Association(1889-)

Bureau of American Ethnology