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US Legislative Materials & Histories: Preliminary Considerations

This guide is designed to help you find federal legislative documents in the Law Library, in the Graduate Library, and through online resources

Getting Started

Begin by identifying what you already know about your statute or bill. The information with which you start will affect your approach to the research. Listed below are factors to assess and consider before you get started:

Statute or bill?

Determine whether you want the history of:

  1. An enacted statute; or
  2. A bill that failed to become law; or
  3. A bill that is currently under consideration by Congress.

Remember that compiled legislative histories (see below) are available for many, but not all, statutes. Compiled legislative histories are generally not available for failed bills or bills currently under consideration.


Identify the approximate date when the statute was passed or the bill was considered. This will help you identify which sources to consult.

Obtaining Legislative Histories

There are two ways to obtain a legislative history:

1. Locate a previously compiled legislative history

Compiled legislative histories are generally only available for statutes (bills that have been passed into law) -- not for failed bills or bills still under consideration by Congress. To locate a compiled legislative history using the sources described on the Compiled Legislative Histories tab, you will need the following information:

  • the name of the act, and
  • the Public Law (P.L.) number.

For help identifying this information, consult the page Finding the Public Law (PL) Number & Statutes at Large Citation.

2. Compile your own legislative history

You will have to compile your own legislative history if you cannot locate a compiled legislative history for a statute, or if you are tracing the history of a failed or current bill, or if your assignment requires you to do all of the research yourself. To compile a legislative history you will need the following information:

  • The Public Law (P.L.) number (for statutes); and
  • the bill number; and
  • the topic or subject of the statute or bill; and
  • the approximate date of introduction or passage of the statute or bill.

For help identifying this information, consult the page Finding Bill Numbers.

Preliminary Citations & Topical Information

Take note of all the citation and subject information you have for the statute or bill you are researching.

If you lack any of the citations necessary to locate a compiled legislative history or to compile your own, consult the other sections of this tab (Finding Bill Numbers or Finding the PL Number), which will enable you to use what you already know about the statute or bill to fill in the missing information.

On each page, find the heading that applies to your situation; there you will find a list of sources to consult to locate the other citations.

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