Recover Lost and Stolen Documents

The History of Government Documents

From the earliest days of the new republic, Congress required that agencies and courts preserve most documents and dispose of them only with special authorization. Since 1934, the National Archives has been legally responsible for most of the U.S. government’s documents (federal, congressional, and presidential records) from 1776 to the present. Since 1950, Federal agencies follow agreements called records schedules, which prescribe how long all Federal documents must be kept. A small percentage of documents are determined to have historical value and are deemed permanent. Permanent historical documents are transferred to the National Archives.

Historical presidential documents and materials dating back to President Hoover are maintained at Presidential Libraries that are run by the National Archives. Prior to 1981, these historical documents were donated to the National Archives by the former President. Since 1981, these Presidential historical documents are government property under the Presidential Records Act.